Why we need a citizen initiative

Calaveras County’s local fire protection agencies are underfunded.

They depend on volunteer firefighters. It is becoming more difficult to recruit and retain volunteers. Many able-bodied adults can’t volunteer because they need to work full time. Young trainees make up a significant portion of the volunteers. Yet they often leave within a few years to seek employment. To retain them, many fire districts pay small stipends when volunteers serve shifts at fire stations or when they respond to incidents. To subsidize the cost of local fire protection, Calaveras County fire districts depend on earning extra money by renting out engines and fire crews to fight fires elsewhere in California. This “strike team” pay, however, is unreliable. In recent years districts have at times drained down their savings to continue operating. Already, some stations are unstaffed. When stations are unstaffed, firefighters must respond from home or from more distant stations, increasing the time it takes to arrive on scene and the chances that a fire or medical emergency will cause a loss of life or property.

Calaveras County fire agencies depend on each other.

Many engines are only staffed with two firefighters, so it is not until a second engine arrives that enough firefighters are on hand (four) to safely make an interior attack on a structure fire. Most of the time, the second, third and fourth engines on scene are from agencies outside the local district. Although a few agencies in Calaveras County do have paid firefighters, even they do not have enough paid firefighters to staff engines at either the minimum (three firefighters) or the standard (four firefighters) recommended by the National Fire Protection Association.

Help our firefighters to help us

This measure would provide funding to improve emergency response in all nine local fire districts as well as the municipal fire department in Angels Camp. Based on actual sales tax distributions, a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax during the 2020-21 fiscal year would have provided $5.68 million, enough when distributed to allow each fire agency to address its needs, such as purchasing equipment, repairing facilities, incentives for volunteers, hiring firefighters for entry-level wages to staff stations 24-hours a day, hiring firefighters to increase the number on engines, or addressing other limits to recruiting, training, equipping, housing and retaining firefighters.

Calaveras County is a tourist destination.

Local fire agencies each year provide aid to many visitors. A sales tax increase for fire protection would mean that visitors to the county would contribute toward services they use.

Benefits of the Calaveras Local Fire Protection Tax Initiative include:

• A stable source of funding for first-line fire agencies.

• Faster and expanded mutual aid response for larger emergencies.

• Giving districts the ability to keep experienced firefighters.

• Creating living wage jobs for young adults in Calaveras County.

• Keeping local firefighters here in-county at times when Cal Fire sends its resources elsewhere.

• Tourists and other visitors would pay into the costs of emergency services they receive.

Strike Team
A strike team of Calaveras County engines departs San Andreas in August, 2014. Many districts depend on strike team earnings to subsidize their operations here in Calaveras County.