March IVCSD meeting is afire

By Meg Upton

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The Indian Valley Community Services District meeting could be summed up by one of the first public comments made March 10.

“We are all here as public servants. I’m concerned with the chain of command and information getting caught up with the operational procedure. Information is being passed to the board that has not been discussed with the chief. This causes strife, conflict, and mostly miscommunication,” said volunteer firefighter Dan Kearns.


IVCSD has been without a general manager since September of last year, and board directors and staff have divvied up general manager duties until a general manager can be hired.

Most regular monthly IVCSD meetings have no public in attendance or just one member of the public coming to view the board meeting activities. This month, the socially distanced audience of 10 volunteer firefighters plus a few other residents changed that.

The firefighters’ presence seemed to be two-fold: in support of fire chief Tony Balbiani — who had given his letter of resignation to the board (which was accepted unanimously later in the meeting) — and in support of volunteer firefighters being paid from the North Complex Fire from last summer.

Laura Kerns, Indian Valley Community Pool manager, made a statement at the beginning of public comment in support of the relationship and MOU between the IVCSD and the pool in Taylorsville. She commended IVCSD employee Don Silva as being exceptionally helpful.


There was also brief discussion of the Plumas County Fire Safe Council signage and expanding awareness of purchasing these signs by local residents. The green signs with white lettering make addresses easy to identify for firefighters and other first responders to a residence.

Firefighter pay

But the bulk of the discussion on March 10 had everything to do with how — and under what circumstances, volunteer firefighters should be paid. The audience of firefighters offered their perspectives on the situation and the board offered theirs.

At issue was the need for a salary survey to determine how much to pay volunteer firefighters for their time. According to Fire Chief Tony Balbiani, the former general manager and he as fire chief, had called around to neighboring districts to determine how much compensation should be. The board, with director Mina Admire in the lead, voiced frustration that the general manager and Balbiani had not gotten permission from the board to do that. Director Lee Anne Schramel was concerned that they did not have anything in writing to verify their research.


Balbiani indicated he had not received official information. Schramel countered that she knew information from the Quincy Fire District that was not congruous with what Balbiani was indicating.

“My impression about what’s going on is that we can’t pay volunteers, because they are not employees, which is why we use reimbursement. That’s what I’m interested in doing,” said board director Schramel.

“We can only reimburse for time away, clothing, time on the fire, etc.,” said Admire.

“I know there are issues,” said director Bob Orange, “we want to move forward and compensate for it [wild fires].”

“We need to look at how other districts do it,” said Schramel. This was a refrain of the board in their open discussion with Balbiani who, they indicated, had not done his due diligence in providing the board with information so they could make informed decisions on payments for the firefighters. “I’m not willing to do someone else’s job for them,” continued Schramel in response to suggestions that the board do the research on payment; indicating that it was a duty of the fire chief.


“I’ve talked to Quincy [fire district]. They don’t have a policy. They just do it,” said Balbiani.

One firefighter asked the board where the money to pay the firefighters was. “Is there money sitting in an escrow account or in a general fund for us?”

“We have not been paid by the government [to pay] volunteers because billing has not occurred,” said Schramel in response.

The most combustible part of the evening was an exchange between Balbiani and director Admire who admitted she was “frustrated” by the job Balbiani had done (or not done) in providing the board information in order to pay the volunteers’ compensation. She spoke of having not slept as a reason for her outburst.

“If you [to Balbiani] and the general manager are billing the government for salaries that did not exist this is a huge red flag,” said Admire. “I’m upset at Tony because the chain of command is broken. Tony took it first to the firefighters. I feel like we [the board] was set up to fail tonight, and I’m not happy. It should have been brought to the board first.”


“I’m trying. What do you want,” retorted Balbiani.

One firefighter said, “We need to come together and put our differences aside.”

Dan Kearns appeared to represent the nodding firefighters in the audience. “I want to fix this, not drag it out. Everyone has an understanding of what’s going on. Volunteers need to get paid what we are owed,” said Kearns.

In the end, director Orange brokered peace. This has been “a mine field we are going through here, and I appreciate your comments,” Orange said to the firefighters.

The board indicated it needed a complete and detailed accounting of the firefighters’ time on the North Complex Fire and their expenses in our to be reimbursed.

The two sides plan to meet in the coming weeks and before the next regular meeting in April to hash out details to get the volunteers reimbursed. The directors thanked the firefighters for their service to the community.


The next item on the agenda was Balbiani’s resignation. The firefighters stayed for the brief motion. Balbiani indicated he was moving out of the area to “pursue my goals and aspirations.”

“I am confident that I am leaving Indian Valley Fire in better shape than when I found it,” he said in his letter. The firefighters in the audience left after their chief’s resignation was concluded.

The board went on to discuss the current IVCSD audit, which had two minor items the board needed to respond to, but was characterized by Orange as “a pretty clear bill of health.”