By Reggie Ellis

Just hours after a meeting with the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 23, Tulare County Fire Chief David Hillman said that the county would not be having cutbacks at fire stations in the next several months.

"I've been told [the county] will pursue a better fix," Hillman said at the Exeter City Council meeting. He said the Board of Supervisors would suspend staff reductions, probably until July, at its Nov. 30 meeting, which was after press time.

At its Nov. 23 meeting, the Board of Supervisors had announced that beginning Monday, Nov. 29, five fire stations would eliminate all full-time positions and would be completely staffed by volunteers, or paid call firefighters, in Dinuba, Visalia, Tulare, Alpaugh and Porterville. Then, in January, the switch would also be made at a second station in Porterville, Doyle Colony, Goshen and Lemoncove. Overall, 24 full-time firefighter positions would be eliminated.

"Those cuts would have negatively affected every station in the county," Hillman said. "City Engines would have gone out more on county calls and affected service within the city."

He said outgoing Board Chairman and District 1 Supervisor Bill Sanders will spearhead the effort to get a utility tax to cover the $1.8 million budget shortfall to cover the cost for staffing all stations with full-time personnel. Sanders, who is retiring after 12 years on the board, will be replaced by Supervisor-elect Allen Ishida in January. Hillman, whose father sat on the Board of Supervisors in the 1970s, said, "The budget was just short of covering the cost in 1974, and you can imagine it is just that much more short in 2004."

The board has said the shortfall is the difference between what it costs to run county fire services through its contracts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CDF) and what the county can afford after the state's continued raiding of property taxes to cover a huge budget deficit. CDF is the state-wide fire agency that covers state lands and supports county and local fire stations especially in rural areas.

The Lindsay Department of Public Safety (Tulare County Station 15) would not have been directly affected. Lindsay's second-in and third-in - nearby stations that respond when more help is needed or the closest station is already on a call - were not affected. Lindsay's second-in station, Strathmore (Station 16), and its third-in station, Exeter (Station 11), were not scheduled for staffing reductions.

However, Strathmore's coverage area to the south would have increased because of the cutbacks. If both Porterville stations were reduced to volunteers, the closest back-up station with a full-time firefighter to Strathmore's southern edge would be Terra Bella, which would have added another eight minutes to the response time. Most people agree even two minutes could be the difference between saving a home or saving lives.

Porterville's two stations would have have been staffed by volunteer firefighters (paid call firefighters paid per diem). However, volunteers are not usually at the station. After receiving the call, volunteers must leave where they are, go to the station, pick up the fire vehicle and then respond to the incident, which could add another 10 minutes.

Start typing and press Enter to search