Two weekends ago, Crescent City Fire and Rescue responded to a call for a possible stroke victim in Fort Dick. Volunteer firefighters arrived to find the call was actually for a cardiac arrest.
The estimated time of arrival for other responding emergency personnel was five minutes, but brain damage occurs within just three to four minutes. The Crescent City crew arrived in time.
A crowd of about 20 firefighters and onlookers hushed as interim Crescent City Fire Chief Bill Gillespie told this story during a recent meeting in explaining the importance of the city’s fire and rescue unit.
The fire and rescue board and the Crescent City Council subsequently voted Nov. 21 to accept a proposed 10-year financial master plan to make Crescent City Fire and Rescue sustainable, although certain plan amendments were introduced.
With a mostly volunteer staff and an interim fire chief, the fire and rescue division faces declining service capabilities without additional financial support. If they continued at their present trajectory, they would run out of funds by 2022, according to Crescent City Manager Eric Wier.
“This is not a ‘what-we-want’ plan. This is a ‘what-we-need’ plan, and what we need is coverage,” Wier said.
The department currently responds to an average of 1,300 calls per year, serving a population of 19,500 people within a 28.4-mile area. It’s annual total operating costs reach $1,084,946.
The department runs with 20 active volunteers.
During a meeting filled with heroic stories of firefighters and with little resistance from the crowd, overwhelming support for Crescent City Fire and Rescue appeared to be the pulse in the room.
Colette Metz, a senior partner with Planwest Partners in Arcata, who authored the 10-year plan, presented key points to the city council and the fire board. Under the master plan, the city will fill the fire chief position permanently, and will employ three full-time captains to replace the current part-time deputy chief and part-time maintenance worker positions.
The goal of the plan is to develop a cost-effective strategy that will improve the level of service to the community and build a reliable and effective volunteer organization. “Without the people, the fire department isn’t,” said Gillespie.
The plan proposes a robust training program for firefighters, as well as new equipment and upgraded facilities and community engagement.
The community engagement aspect is key for funding, said Wier, who believes the community would want to support fire and rescue if they were informed about all of the services it offers.
The most controversial portion of the plan is its funding. The additional money necessary to implement the 10-year plan would come from both the city and the county, with the city paying $307,414 and the county paying $355,300.
“We have to find all funding sources, leave no stone unturned,” Wier said. Some of the revenue sources suggested were benefit assessments, special taxes, sales taxes, development fees and fees for service.
Although there was some dispute from the meeting’s attendees regarding taxes versus benefit assessments, both the city council and the fire board were largely in support of the taxing necessary to fund the plan.
“I’m not a big fan of tax increases, I’ll be the first to say that. But this isn’t just a frivolous tax increase,” said Crescent City Councilor Jason Greenough.
While the plan passed with a only few requests for amendments, Metz said there is still much work to do, especially with community acceptance.