Town Hall set for Oct. 6 in Murphys

MURPHYS – The Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee for Measure A will host a Town Hall at 6 p.m. Oct. 6 in the Native Sons of the Golden West Hall, 389 Main St., Murphys. The Town Hall offers a chance for voters to learn the details of Measure A, the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative.

Calaveras County voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to approve Measure A, which is a 1 percent sales tax to fund fire protection.

“We hope voters will come ready to ask questions,” said Dana M. Nichols, chairman of the citizen committee behind the measure. “We understand that this community strongly supports public safety, including firefighters. At the same time, not everyone may be familiar with the limited funding and staffing challenges facing our local fire agencies.”

Nichols said that representatives of the Murphys Fire Protection District will be invited to the meeting so that they can also offer information on how the district operates.

Murphys, like most fire districts in the county, depends on volunteer firefighters. Firefighters receive small stipends when they serve shifts at the station. Recently, many volunteers have been leaving fire districts countywide to take paid jobs.

When Murphys or any other district has a large emergency – a fully involved structure fire or a wildland fire that can’t be knocked down upon first attack – then it counts on neighboring districts to send in additional engines and firefighters.

Nichols, who is also on the board of San Andreas Fire Protection District, noted that Cal Fire also helps – when its engines are here. “Cal Fire at times sends its crews to big fires elsewhere in California. When that happens, Cal Fire counts on the local fire districts to cover for it.” Also, Cal Fire specializes in wildland fires. It is the local fire districts that have the specialized equipment and training for handling car crashes and health emergencies.

“Mutual aid is why we all need to confront this together,” Nichols said. “In order to keep my community from burning down, I need to know that my neighbors also have firefighters on duty who can help when needed.”

Nichols said that the citizens committee spent months in discussions with the local fire districts to come up with a plan that would win wide support. The measure requires that most of the funding be spent to keep firefighters on duty and requires fire agencies to report on how they use the money.

“This is a special tax – it can only be spent for operating our fire protection agencies,” Nichols said. “Voters may not realize that some of the other taxes they approved in recent years – such as the Transient Occupancy Tax – are general taxes. Even if those taxes were sold as benefiting public safety, elected leaders can always decide to use them for something else because they are general taxes. In contrast, elected leaders have no discretion to use Measure A for anything but its stated purpose – to keep firefighters on duty and adequately equipped and housed.”

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Town Hall meeting on Measure A set for Aug. 6

For years, Calaveras County’s fire districts have cooperated on Fire Academy training sessions like this one in May, 2022, in Copperopolis. Yet while local agencies continue to train plenty of volunteers, they struggle to hold on to them as big city and state fire agencies lure them away with the offer of paid jobs. Measure A would make it possible for fire districts to pay at least some firefighters, thus stopping the drain on Calaveras County talent.

COPPEROPOLIS – The Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee for Measure A will host a Town Hall at 6 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Black Creek Clubhouse, 920 Black Creek Drive, Copperopolis. The Town Hall offers a chance for voters to learn the details of Measure A, the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative.

Calaveras County voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to approve Measure A, which is a 1 percent sales tax to fund fire protection.

“We hope voters will come ready to ask questions,” said Dana M. Nichols, chairman of the citizen committee behind the measure. “We understand that this community strongly supports public safety, including firefighters. At the same time, not everyone may be familiar with the limited funding and staffing challenges facing our local fire agencies.”

Nichols said that representatives of the Copperopolis Fire Protection District will be invited to the meeting so that they can also offer information on how the district operates.

Copperopolis is one of the few Calaveras County districts that does always have paid firefighters on duty. Yet the district still also depends on reserves for the second and third firefighters on its engines. Reserve firefighters receive small stipends when they serve shifts at the station. This summer, Copperopolis Fire has had fewer reserve firefighters available than it has had historically.

When Copperopolis or any other district has a large emergency – a fully involved structure fire or a wildland fire that can’t be knocked down upon first attack – then it counts on neighboring districts to send in additional engines and firefighters.

Nichols, who is also on the board of San Andreas Fire Protection District, noted that Cal Fire also helps – when its engines are here. “Cal Fire at times sends its crews to big fires elsewhere in California. When that happens, Cal Fire counts on the local fire districts to cover for it.” Also, Cal Fire specializes in wildland fires. It is the local fire districts that have the specialized equipment and training for handling car crashes and health emergencies.

“Mutual aid is why we all need to confront this together,” Nichols said. “In order to keep my community from burning down, I need to know that my neighbors also have firefighters on duty who can help when needed.”

Nichols said that the citizens committee spent months in discussions with the local fire districts to come up with a plan that would win wide support. The measure requires that most of the funding be spent to keep firefighters on duty and requires fire agencies to report on how they use the money.

“This is a special tax – it can only be spent for operating our fire protection agencies,” Nichols said. “Voters may not realize that some of the other taxes they approved in recent years – such as the Transient Occupancy Tax – are general taxes. Even if those taxes were sold as benefiting public safety, elected leaders can always decide to use them for something else because they are general taxes. In contrast, elected leaders have no discretion to use Measure A for anything but its stated purpose – to keep firefighters on duty and adequately equipped and housed.”

Cal Co Fire Responds to Firefighter Staffing Squeeze

VALLEY SPRINGS – The leaders of Calaveras County’s largest local fire district this month decided to dip into the district’s financial reserves and hire six seasonal firefighters rather than risk going without enough firefighters during the looming summer fire season.

“We didn’t have anybody that wanted to continue to work for $125 a day,” Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rich Dickinson said of the stipends the district pays to intern firefighters for 24-hour shifts.

Calaveras County’s local fire agencies have been losing their low-paid volunteers and interns in record numbers recently as Cal Fire goes on a hiring spree and California cities seek to replenish the depleted ranks of municipal fire departments. Even the federal government, long known for its low pay to firefighters, is now gearing up to pay a living wage to firefighters with funds from an infrastructure bill President Biden signed recently.

“Cal Fire took a lot of our people,” Dickinson said.

Until recently, Calaveras Consolidated – which serves Valley Springs, Burson, Wallace and Rancho Calaveras – always kept two paid firefighters on duty 24/7. One of those paid firefighters was stationed at the Jenny Lind station and one at the station in downtown Valley Springs. The district was able to keep two or three firefighters on both engines, however, by using volunteers and interns.

Now, however, it finds it is losing those interns and volunteers faster than it can replace them. Fortunately, the district had been able in recent years to earn money by renting engines and crews to Cal Fire strike teams fighting fires around the state. That windfall means that, temporarily, the district can afford to hire six more seasonal firefighters, said Kim Olson, a member of the district board with 48 years in fire service.

Olson said the district will spend almost $150,000 through Dec. 2 to double the number of firefighters on duty 24/7 to a total of four – two each at the District stations in Jenny Lind and Valley Springs. District directors voted unanimously on June 13 to approve the temporary funding.

In the long run, however, that pace of spending will not be sustainable unless the district gets new revenue. Without new revenue, the district might have to close one station next year, Dickinson said.

Calaveras County voters in November will vote on Measure A, a citizen initiative that would address the problem. Measure A, a 1-percent sales tax, would pay to staff fire engines at local agencies across the county. The approximately $900,000 a year that Calaveras Consolidated would receive through Measure A would be enough to keep the engines staffed at the existing stations and also to reopen a station in the Burson area that is now vacant.

“Cal Co isn’t the only fire district losing its trainees,” said Dana Nichols, chairman of the citizen committee behind Measure A. “For a long time, our young people have been stepping up to volunteer and provide these lifesaving services. But now with the rising cost of living and job opportunities elsewhere, they simply can’t afford to stay here.”

“Measure A is a way to guarantee adequate fire staffing countywide, and to ensure that at least some of our young people can afford to live and work in the community they love,” Nichols said.

            Learn more about Measure A at Calaveraslfp.org or call Nichols at 209-768-9072.

Calaveras Local Fire Protection Initiative goes to November 2022 Ballot

Campaign committee members Dana Nichols, Skip Sharp and Bob Dean turn in more than 3,000 signatures on Feb. 22, 2022

CALAVERAS COUNTY – Calaveras County Clerk Rebecca Turner in March certified that volunteers collected enough voter signatures to place the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative on the November Ballot. The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on April 12 voted to formally call an election and consolidate it with this year’s general election.

The 1 percent sales tax, if approved by voters, would make it possible for all nine local fire districts and the City of Angels Camp Fire Department to improve staffing and assure that firefighters are available 24/7 in all parts of the county to respond to emergencies.

“This was an outstanding volunteer effort,” said Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee Chairman Dana Nichols of San Andreas.

According to the Signature Verification Certificate issued by Turner, the campaign turned in a total of 3,056 signatures on the Feb. 22 deadline. Of those, 2,595 were found to be “sufficient,” meaning that the signature and listed address were a match for a registered voter.

That total is 434 more valid signatures than the minimum 2,161 required to call an election.

Nichols said the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee is already preparing for November. Supporters of local fire protection who want to get involved can contact the campaign through its website, calaveraslfp.org, or by calling Nichols at 209-768-9072.

Sign-up Saturdays kick off in January

The Calaveras Local Fire Protection campaign will host drive-thru petition signing at four locations on the first three Saturdays of January.

SAN ANDREAS – The Calaveras Local Fire Protection campaign will host a series of drive-thru petition signing events on Saturdays in January. The events are designed to make it convenient for Calaveras County voters to participate in the effort help keep firefighters in the county.

            “We hear from voters who want to sign the petition but just haven’t been at one of the places where we’ve been. This gives an easy option for anyone to drive up and sign,” said Dana Nichols, chairman of the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee.

            Nichols said that the campaign’s goal is to collect 3,000 signatures by the Feb. 22 deadline. That number would assure that there are at least the 2,161 valid signatures required to get it on the ballot. Nichols said that as of Christmas, the campaign was just under half way to that goal with eight weeks remaining.

Putting the measure on the ballot will allow Calaveras County voters to decide whether to provide the nine local fire districts and one municipal fire department with funding to improve their operations.

            “In most cases, that would make it possible for the districts to have at least a couple paid firefighters on duty 24/7,” Nichols said. “Right now, most of Calaveras County’s local fire agencies depend on volunteers. Those volunteers, however, want to earn a living and so often decide to move out of the county for living-wage jobs. Often we lose them to Cal-Fire or city fire departments.”

            Sign-Up Saturdays will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 1, Jan. 8 and Jan. 15 at the following locations:

            Mokelumne Hill – Corner of Highway 49 and Highway 26

San Andreas – Treat’s General Store

Valley Springs – Highway 26 and Hogan Dam Road

            Copperopolis – IGA parking lot

           

           

           

           

           

Valley Springs leaders support fire protection initiative

Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rich Dickinson

Two Valley Springs leaders on Saturday signed the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative. Both Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief Rich Dickinson and Calaveras County District 5 Supervisor Ben Stopper say the measure is needed to fund adequate staffing of local fire agencies.

If enough Calaveras County voters sign the petition before the end of February, then the measure will go to the ballot next year.

If voters approve it, the measure will increase the sales tax in Calaveras County by 1 cent per dollar and use the resulting revenue to fund the county’s nine local fire districts as well as the Angels Camp Fire Department.

Dickinson said that if the measure passes, he would be able to open a station in Burson with two paid firefighters on duty 24/7 as well as increasing the number of firefighters on duty at existing stations in Jenny Lind and Valley Springs.

Calaveras County Supervisor Ben Stopper
Calaveras County Supervisor Ben Stopper on Oct. 23 signs the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative.

Petition now circulating!

Calaveras County Supervisor Jack Garamendi signs the petition Oct. 21 on a dining room table in San Andreas.
Voter Kim Jones of Mountain Ranch, right, signs the petition Oct. 20 in Angels Camp while campaign volunteer Gina Gonzales, left, looks on.

Fire Protection Sales Tax Initiative Begins Circulation in Calaveras County

CALAVERAS COUNTY – Volunteers in October began collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would ask Calaveras County voters to approve a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase to fund local fire protection agencies.

The Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative, if qualified for the ballot and then approved by voters, would generate an estimated $5 million per year to fund improved staffing in the county’s ten local fire agencies – nine fire districts and one municipal fire department.

Proponents say it is getting harder to keep volunteer firefighters here as many are forced to move away to earn a living, often getting hired by Cal Fire or by big-city departments outside the county.

“Right now the county has a number of stations that are either vacant or staffed something less than 24/7,” said Dana Nichols of San Andreas, one of the four proponents. “This funding would make it possible for even the smallest agencies to either hire paid firefighters or significantly improve their incentives for volunteers,” he said.

Even those agencies that do have some paid firefighters on duty 24/7 don’t have enough paid firefighters to meet the National Fire Protection Association Standard of four firefighters per engine, or even the minimum standard of three.

“Even the best funded fire agency in the county – Ebbetts Pass – has a vacant station that would, if staffed, significantly reduce response times in parts of that district,” Nichols said.

The four proponents of the measure are Nichols, Robert T. Dean of Mokelumne Hill, and Skip and Shannon Sharp of Mountain Ranch. Along with Faith Hall of Valley Springs, they also make up the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Committee that is organizing the campaign.

To qualify for the ballot, the campaign must collect the signatures of 2,161 Calaveras County voters by February 22. That number represents 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in Calaveras County in the last gubernatorial election in 2018. The measure would most likely go before voters in November, 2022.

“Very supportive,” campaign volunteer Gina Gonzales said of the reaction she’s received while gathering signatures at a shopping center in Angels Camp. “People say this should have been done a long time ago.”

Gonzales also said many voters have questions and are often not familiar with how local fire agencies train and recruit firefighters. “A lot of people don’t know they are (mostly) volunteers and don’t get paid,” she said.

Nichols said the campaign is looking for volunteers to gather signatures in all areas of the county. “You can have a petition party with friends or take it to the next meeting of your service club or other group,” he said.

For more information, or to volunteer or donate, go to the campaign website at calaveraslfp.org or call Nichols at 209-768-9072.