Hamilton Branch Fire requests increased assessment

The Hamilton Branch Fire Protection District has been discussing what can be done to offer a quicker and even more efficient response to fire calls in the future for several months now.

Besides the normal business items on the agenda at the Nov. 13 meeting and up-dates on the soon to be installed emergency warning siren, the focal discussion was again on the future needs of the district and how to maintain the excellent ISO rating the district has established for the community.

Because the district is mostly dependant on volunteer staffing there is always an inherent “short” delay as the volunteers travel to the station in order to man the engines.

After much discussion with the volunteers and the community, it was decided that the best solution would be to have two full time firefighters at the station at all times.

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The equipment could then be on its way to the incident within minutes and support going directly to the site.

To accomplish this new staffing the board has suggested an increase in the annual parcel assessment for parcels in the district that helps fund the fire district.

Continuing the discussion with community members, the volunteers and the Fire Belles auxiliary members and receiving broad support, the board unanimously passed a resolution to have a special election vote on an increase in assessment on each parcel within the boundaries of the Fire Protection District, and have the measure placed on a special election ballot scheduled May 5, 2020.

Resolution Number 11-13-2019-01 states in part: “The measure submitted to the voters within the boundaries of the District shall read as follows:

“Upon a two-thirds vote of approval, the Hamilton Branch Fire Protection District shall be authorized to levy a special tax of $283.00 per year per parcel to an indeterminate period of time with no predetermined expiration date within the District, excluding those parcels exempt from County property tax, to replace the current special tax of $108.00 per year per parcel authorized by the voters in 2007, to be collected and apportioned with the Plumas County property taxes beginning in fiscal year 2020/2021 and continuing each year thereafter with the proceeds from the such taxes to be used for the sole purposes of supplementing the funding of services for emergency medical services, fire protection and prevention; with the approval of the special tax also being for the purpose of raising the district’s appropriations limits (spending limit) by the amount of the annual proceeds from the special tax, shall continue to be deposited into a specially-created account on which an annual report shall be made as required by Government Code Section 50075.3.”

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The community members that are already involved in the district either as volunteers or auxiliary members are in agreement with the proposed changes in staffing and believe the assessment increase is both reasonable and needed.

At the request of the board, Fire Chief Gary Pini presented a historical narrative about the path the HBFPD has been following over the last 29 years.

The last assessment was approved in 2007, which is the current $108 per parcel amount.

Over that period of time the district has been able to:

– Purchase two fire engines to replace the previous 1965 and 1966 engines.

– Acquire a 2011 Pierce water tender to supply water at remote locations.

– Replace the outdated Rescue Squad with a new (2017) unit.

– Refurbish the fire station with new siding and paint, energy efficient windows, exterior lighting, a 20KW back-up generator and a new roof.

– Provide for one full time Firefighter/EMT (contracted from Peninsula Fire) to be at the HB Station 24/7.

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Certification Changes:

During that same time there have been changes in the requirements the state mandates for the training of volunteer firefighters.

Currently the volunteers are required to have the same level of training as paid firefighters.

Based on the current drill schedule it would take a new volunteer roughly 44 to 54 months to complete the approximately 216 hours of training to become fully certified.

This training does not include the additional 40 to 170 hours required medical training to become an Emergency Medical Responder or EMT.

The added burden for the volunteers makes it much harder to recruit new personnel and because emergencies can happen at any time there is a rule of thumb that it takes three volunteers on the books for one to respond to any given call.

Considering the roughly 22 percent population growth within the district boundaries in the last decade and the 100 plus medical responses this last year, availability of personnel becomes a crucial factor.

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Mitigating Factors:

Through the efforts of Pini and the district board, HBFPD is currently rated as a Class 4 fire department.

For those unfamiliar, there is a company called the ISO (Insurance Services Office) that creates ratings for fire departments and their surrounding communities.

The ratings calculate how well equipped the fire departments are to put out fires in there given community.

The ISO provides this ISO fire score to homeowners insurance companies who then use it to help set homeowner insurance rates.

The more prepared your fire department is to put out a fire, the less likely your house is to burn down and that makes your home less of a risk to the insurance companies.

An ISO Class 4 rating for a rural volunteer department is very hard to come by and well worth maintaining.

Another positive factor is the certification of the Hamilton Branch/East Shore/Seneca Firewise Group this year.

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The board the opportunity to explain the benefits of this funding proposal and  welcomes residents served by HBFPD to come to the board meetings between now and the May election for information and  new ideas.