CPUD board welcomes new fire chief, prepares for fire season

Brian Layne was hired as Interim Chester Fire Chief and Emergency Services Director on Feb. 25, to replace retiring Fire Chief Joe Waterman. Photo by Stacy Fisher

A quorum of the Chester Public Utility District board of directors convened its regular monthly meeting March 19 with two board seats currently open. Board chair Wes Scott and director Brian Layne tendered their resignations March 12 and Feb. 21, respectively.

After leaving the CPUD board, Layne was hired on as Interim Chester Fire Chief and Emergency Services Director to replace retiring Fire Chief Joe Waterman, who also attended the board meeting as a spectator.

Waterman said he would be available to assist Layne in an informal capacity until he had familiarized himself with the duties, paperwork and district protocols of the post.

Vice chair Ben Thompson was tasked with chairing the meeting, and brought up the board vacancies with the other remaining board members and Chester General Manager Frank Motzkus.

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Motzkus told the board that he still had three people in his files who had shown interest in applying for previously open board seats from October of last year, plus a more recent letter of interest for the position, but asked the board whether or not a new round of recruitment efforts should also be implemented to find additional eligible persons.

The district is required to officially post the need to fill board seat vacancies using three public sites at least 15 days prior to enlisting new board members, Cheryl Johnson, clerk to the board, reminded the board.

The other option, Motzkus mentioned, was holding the seats open until November when a new election would be held, but the directors didn’t think that was advisable.

A motion was made to advertise the open seats within the next few days, which passed by unanimous vote.

Anyone interested in filling the board vacancies, and is registered to vote in the district, should contact the CPUD office to complete an application.

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It was also recommended that elections for board officer positions should wait until all the board seats were filled.

Motzkus further noted that the board had one fewer member for the standing Personnel Committee with the resignation of Scott, which requires at least two board members assigned to each committee to address specific issues.

Steve Voboril volunteered to join the Personnel Committee with Steve Trotter.

The board heard a motion to approve the appointment of Voboril to the committee, with all voting in favor.

Financials

No important outstanding issues were discussed regarding the district’s Financials report.

There was talk however on a planned review of one of the district’s employee’s CalPERS benefits claim, and a brief discussion on a transitory line item designating a rental fee for use of the CPUD’s conference room by Sierra Institute.

General Manager’s report

After approval of the Feb. 19 and March 11 meeting minutes, the board moved on to the general manager’s report. District Manager Frank Motzkus told the board that a lot of changes have occurred with respect to the board since the last meeting, including reiterating the recent hiring of Layne as Interim Chester Fire Chief.

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Although Layne had indicated to the board members his desire to remain in his new position for the long term, the district is nevertheless still required to advertise for a full-time fire chief, according to the rules established by the CalPERS system, as he was technically in “retirement” status and could only work a total of 960 hours per year.

Risk Management Plan

Motzkus said the update to the Risk Management Plan for the wastewater chlorine and sulfur dioxide systems has started, as required by Plumas County Environmental Health.

The cost to have the plan modernized by Shasta Lake-based Lawrence & Associates, a private consulting firm providing civil engineering services, is $4,096.

New control system

New computer equipment and software were installed and completed March 14 by Sierra Controls of Reno, Motzkus informed the board, to upgrade the CPUD’s supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (CADA) wastewater control system that operates the variable frequency drives at the 4th Avenue and Vision Lake lift stations at a cost of approximately $65,000, which per contract includes continuous upgrades as they become available.

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Clint Tissot, lead supervisor for CPUD’s wastewater treatment and water distribution systems, said the new equipment is much more reliable, and allows access to information at all hours from different devices like smart phones, instead of having a technician drive to the utility to obtain data on operations.

Streetlight subsidies

For years, the district has relied on Plumas County Public Works to pay 25 percent of the cost of street lighting, billed twice a year. Caltrans is responsible only for paying street light costs that are located along Main Street in downtown Chester.

The latest dollar figure received by the Public Works department was in the amount of $3,877.84.

Board members were concerned on how to pay for street lighting if subsidies by the department are reduced or eliminated in the future, rather than relying on transferring funds from other divisions in the district to keep all the streetlights operational.

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Trotter suggested that homeowners associations, other local organizations and the general public might consider helping the district pay for street lighting should the need arise, or at least provide suggestions on finding other funding sources should Plumas County Public Works suddenly stop subsidizing the district for its lighting costs.

Electricity savings

Motzkus stated that he was planning to meet with EcoGreen Solutions on March 21 to discuss an electric savings program that is available to the district.

Fire chief’s report

Interim Chester Fire Chief and Emergency Services Director Brian Layne reported that Engine 7222 is out of service for multiple mechanical problems, such as steering and pump issues, adding that he planned to get the vehicle to Susanville for repairs.

Fire Engine 7251 is being worked on to get the vehicle up to specs for possible renting for the 2019 fire season, he said.

Layne also wanted to thank Quincy Fire for loaning the Chester Fire Department the use of its pump test equipment.

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VFA grant

The Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant, a federal 50/50 matching grant administered by CalFire awarded to CFD, is in process with just under $10,000 in funding, Layne said.

He stated that they have on backorder wildland personal protective equipment that should hopefully be delivered before fire season.

Tractor maintenance

The district’s John Deere tractor is in the shop for repairs and maintenance, with an estimate of around $3,000.

CFAA audit

A California Fire Assistance Agreement (CFAA) audit was made March 1. The main focus of the audit was that the Forest Service wanted to pay for actual costs incurred, and the CFAA agreement allows that a local government agency is entitled to backfill pay for all employees sent out on an assignment.

Layne said the current CFAA agreement sunsets in 2020 and will be rewritten with new rules for its payment structure.

Ambulance boundaries

Layne said he met with Peninsula Fire Chief Gary Pini and finalized the new ambulance boundaries for each fire district.

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He said CFD ambulance service ends at the south end of the Almanor Dam, and PHI air ambulance serves Greenville and covers the area all the way to the community of Seneca.

Burn permits

The annual Voluntary Fire Warden letter was sent to CalFire on March 4, Layne said. This authorizes CFD to write burn permits and perform inspections this fire season.

Code of ethics

The Chester Fire Department has rolled out its Employee Code of Ethics document for all district employees to sign, abide by and to keep in their files, Layne said.

Firefighting invoices

Chester Fire is still waiting for full payment for its firefighting services performed this past year.

Layne said CalFire and other agencies have made some payments, with $5,953,984.02 in outstanding invoices and just $378,290.37 received to date thus far.

Payment for two additional fires in the amount of $83,731.72 to Chester Fire is in process.

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New accounting system

Layne informed the district board members about the CalFire and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services’ (Cal OES) new statewide financial payment accounting system (FI$Cal) for state government in the areas of budgeting, accounting, contracts, cash management, payment and procurement information technology platform.

The system is a major shift in state government accounting practices, he said, and will have an impact on how fire districts are paid for services rendered.

Layne went on to say that the invoices that the department sends out for reimbursements would likely not be paid expeditiously until the new accounting system is fully operational.

Staff training

The department is working with the Susanville Interagency Fire Command (SIFC) dispatch center to train fire staff and Kelly Sanders, CPUD office secretary, on the ROSS system, which is used for ordering fire and emergency service calls.

Jaws-of-Life training

The CPUD board of directors voted to allow a surplus 1992 Ford Bronco owned by the district that’s not running for the CFD to use in a Jaws-of-Life training exercise.

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The Jaws-of-Life is a hand-held hydraulic apparatus used to pry apart the wreckage of crashed vehicles in order to free people trapped inside.

Waiver of water service fee

The board decided not to waive the water service fee normally charged at a commercial complex located in town for Camp Fire survivors, instead requiring the fee to be paid as usual by the owner of the property in a vote; with Vice Chair Ben Thompson voting to approve a waiver, and board members Steve Voboril and Steve Trotter opposed.

Service calls

There were 59 service calls to the CFD in February, including zero fire calls; three false alarms; 21 total emergency medical responses in Chester, and nine emergency calls outside Chester; 12 inter-facility flight transfers for emergency treatments; one traffic collision reported; two hazardous situations. The average response time was 5 minutes.

Chester Fire billed out $67,031.55 for ambulance services, and has received $17,637.71 for February.

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The next CPUD regular board meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. on April 17 in the CPUD/fire station’s conference room at 251 Chester Airport Road in Chester. The public is welcome to attend. Phone: 258-2171. Website: chesterpud.org.

From the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to California Fire Assistance Agreement Cooperators

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) would like to express their gratitude to each of the California Fire Assistance Agreement (CFAA) cooperating agencies.

The Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal) is California’s new statewide accounting for state government in the areas of budgeting, accounting, contracts, cash management, payment and procurement information technology platform. The State Controller, the State Treasurer, and the Directors of the Department of Finance and General Services signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2007 to formalize the cooperative partnership to support the development of the FI$Cal system.

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In July 2016, FI$Cal was formally recognized as a new department responsible for implementation, maintenance and operation. Cal OES transitioned to FI$Cal in July 2018 while CalFire transitioned January 2019.

The migration to FI$Cal over the last nine years represents a major shift in state government accounting practices. The days of paper forms and manila folder files for financial processes are coming to an end. Along with other departments, CalFire and Cal OES are adopting new technology and workflow processes. The system provides increased standardization, transparency, discipline, effectiveness, and efficiency for the state’s business processes.

Implementation must overcome the technical and business challenges of unifying the different functions of over 2,500 legacy systems and processes encompassing everything from mainframes to desktops spreadsheets.

CalFire expects delays in the CFAA agreement timeframes for payment of the remaining 2018 invoices due to external factors associated with the transition to FI$Cal in a collaborative effort to minimize payment delays of CFAA invoices.

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Both agencies are acutely aware of the hardships this delay may create and remain committed to processing CFAA invoices as expeditiously as possible within FI$Cal. Your continued support and patience is greatly appreciated.

Signed: Don Gordon, CalFire assistant deputy director; Brian Marshall, Cal OES state fire and rescue chief. Dated March 14, 2019.

Firewise program update

Karen Lichti, Chester Fire Public Information Officer and firefighter, gave an updated report to the Chester PUD board of directors on the progress of the Firewise program now underway.

The program is designed to educate residents on preventing wildland fires from engulfing their homes — as happened in the town of Paradise — particularly during fire season.

A public meeting was held March 19 in the early evening with the topic: “How to Harden Your Home,” part two of the 2019 Firewise series.

At the meeting, Lichti explained how homeowners could prepare their homes and properties to withstand the ember showers that often accompany wildland fires.

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In related news, Lichti, told the board that the fire department had received a grant of $500 from State Farm Insurance for the upcoming National Wildland Fire Preparedness Day, scheduled May 4.

“We are trying to get the local Boy Scouts or a group from the Chester High School to help us clear two lots with homes that belong to senior citizens in town,” who don’t have the means to clean up their properties themselves, Lichti said, paying out $200 of the grant money to whatever group will do the job.

Work will commence at 9 a.m. and finish by 1 p.m. she said.

“We’re going to supply lunch and water for the group,” adding that the event is open to the public, “so that anyone in the community can participate in the work” or just “watch the process in action so they can apply what they learn to creating a defensible space around their own properties.”

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Lichti, one of the members of the Firewise Committee, said parts three and four of the Firewise series will be Saturday, April 6, and Tuesday, May 14.

The committee welcomes other individuals in the community to become committee members as well, by contacting her at 258-2171 or email [email protected]

Firewise calendar:

Tuesday, April 16, 6 p.m. in the CPUD conference room; “Defensible Space — What Should it Look Like?” Please use side door.

Saturday, May 4, 9 a.m. – 1 pm., Wildland Community Preparedness Day. Those participating meet at the Chester Fire Department. Lunch is included. Bring gloves and rakes, pruners.

Tuesday, May 14, 6 p.m. in the CPUD conference room; “Evacuation and Communications Plans.” Do You Have Yours Ready?” Please use side door.

After resigning his seat as a CPUD board member to accept his new position, Brian Layne applied for and was hired as Interim Chester Fire Chief and Emergency Services Director on Feb. 25, to replace retiring Fire Chief Joe Waterman.

Layne, a Chester resident for the past six years along with his wife Nichole and their two children Travis, 12, and Gabrielle, 19, has an extensive fire fighting background.

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“I had a 32-year career with CalFire, mostly in Butte County and also some time spent in Sacramento,” serving in a number of capacities including as a seasonal firefighter, engineer, fire captain, training chief, operations chief, administrative chief, and as a peace officer for 12 years in the law enforcement division at CalFire.

Plus he was an EMT for 20 years. He said he spent the last 10 years serving in the Lassen-Modoc Unit.

Layne said he got into fire fighting because, well … “It’s exciting! … Fire Trucks!”

Layne, who shared that his family loves living in Chester, stated that as fire chief his mission is clear: “To protect the public by utilizing the best training and tactics we can. … We are the community’s fire department and we are here to serve at the highest level possible.”