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.”