Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, July 29 @ 5:28 p.m. / Community, Emergencies, Local Government
Del Norte LAFCo Suggests Regional Approach to Fire Training, Inspections, Code Enforcement
The Del Norte County Local Agency Formation Commission is exploring a regional training and recruitment coordinator as a way of boosting the number of volunteers within the community’s fire departments.
LAFCo staff state such a position could be used to perform “mandated inspections and code enforcement on a countywide basis.” But Del Norte County’s individual fire protection districts must buy into the concept for it to work.
“This concept has been implemented in other counties and could make sense in Del Norte County with district support,” LAFCo’s July 25 staff report states. “LAFCo Commission staff is emphasizing the importance of retaining each independent fire protection district’s identity and function in this regional shared services concept. Each district has invested considerable time and resources in their operations and they’ll continue and likely even flourish with common responsibilities covered on a regional basis.”
Commission staff brought up the shared services concept as LAFCo conducts its five-year municipal services review and update of each fire district’s sphere of influence. As they continue the process, commissioners will explore whether there’s a benefit to have one fire marshal that will serve all of Del Norte’s fire districts, George Williamson, LAFCo’s contracted executive officer, told the Wild Rivers Outpost.
Commissioners will also determine whether or not having a single staffer who coordinates training is beneficial as well, Williamson said. He pointed out that all of Del Norte County’s fire districts rely on volunteers.
“Even paid staff is critical. There are a number of functions that are common to all districts,” Williamson said. “They’re all doing their training. They’re all doing inspections within their districts when called for and that sort of thing. But there might be some efficiencies in coordinating those and having one fire marshal or one overall training (coordinator) or somebody that looked for grants for all the districts.”
Del Norte County encompasses five fire protection districts — Crescent Fire & Rescue, Klamath, Fort Dick, Smith River and Gasquet. Other fire agencies in the community include CalFire, the U.S. Forest Service, Redwood National and State Parks and Pelican Bay State Prison’s fire department. About 98 percent of the firefighters in Del Norte County are volunteers, according to LAFCo’s July 25th staff report.
Williamson said he introduced the Del Norte County Fire Chiefs Association to the shared services concept in April. LAFCo can encourage fire districts to adopt a paid staff member to handle regional tasks like inspections, but it cannot require them to do that, he said.
While he hasn’t been a participant in the Fire Chiefs Association meetings, Del Norte County District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short said the shared services concept has been discussed on a “superficial level.”
Short, who has been a Crescent City Fire & Rescue volunteer firefighter for 33 years, said he thinks having one fire marshal for the county would be a great idea. But he’s not sure if there’s been much buy-in from local fire chiefs.
“It’d be a great pooling of resources and would be beneficial to every fire district in the county,” Short said. “We just have to have that talk a little further and see if we can get buy-in from the departments to fund that position.”
Crescent City Fire & Rescue’s new fire chief, Kevin Carey, said in general he thinks the idea would have both benefits and some drawbacks, but he hasn’t been able to look at the matter in depth yet. He said he couldn’t comment on behalf of the Fire Chiefs Association.
The Local Agency Formation Commission is required to conduct a municipal service review and update the spheres of influence for local government jurisdictions every five years. This review accounts for growth and population projections of the area, highlights infrastructure needs or deficiencies, looks at the financial ability of each agency to provide services and explores opportunities for shared facilities.
Spheres of influence is a term used for all special districts as well as municipalities, Williamson said. These usually extend beyond the official boundary and are used as a way to indicate where future services may be necessary, he said
According to Williamson, the Smith River Fire Protection District is recognizing that there are some parcels within its sphere of influence but outside its boundaries that could be annexed into the district.
The Smith River Fire Protection District’s sphere of influence comprises three areas totaling about 20,528 acres consisting of resource lands and rural residential development, according to LAFCo’s July 25 staff report. Its sphere of influence includes homes and the hillside east of Ocean View Drive south of the Oregon border as well as 15,431 acres up Low Divide and Rowdy Creek roads.
The third area within the Smith River FPD’s sphere of influence is 2,782 acres along the northern portion of Howland Hill Road south of Hiouchi, according to LAFCo’s staff report.
“The county auditor-controller has noted some parcels outside the district boundary and within the (sphere of influence) that have a district assessment on their property tax statement,” the report states. “This includes parcels in the Nautical Heights and Spyglass subdivisions and Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation lands on Rowdy Creek Road. The district has stated they respond to calls in these areas. These parcels and adjacent parcels that would form a logical boundary should be considered for annexation. At minimum, there should be a contract for services between the district and the parcel owners when parcels are outside the district boundary.”
The Smith River Fire Protection District would initiate the application to annex those parcels into the district and it would be brought before LAFCo for consideration, Williamson told the Outpost.