2017-04-13 / Front Page

County inches closer to CAL FIRE pact

Final decision is expected during April 25 meeting

Mariposa County took the first step on Tuesday to having CAL FIRE take command and control of County Fire.

The issue has been on the table for more than two years. It was two-and-one-half years ago that Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies was appointed as the interim fire chief.

Since that time, officials have been formulating ideas about the future of County Fire.

One of the strongest that has surfaced is doing a formal contract with CAL FIRE to take over command and control of County Fire. That has met with some resistance from volunteers around the County, who have lobbied for County command and control of the fire department.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, a presentation was made by CAL FIRE Madera- Mariposa-Merced Unit Chief Nancy Koerperich.

“Our folks we hire would be proud to represent County Fire,” she said.

The concept is for the County to hire a fire chief, battalion chief and fire captain through CAL FIRE. According to Interim County Administrative Officer Dallin Kimble, the cost for those three positions would be $653,449, which includes benefits paid through CAL FIRE but funded by the County.

To hire an independent chief, battalion chief and fire captain it would cost taxpayers $611,399, according to Kimble.

In addition, there would be the cost of support services and dispatch. The County currently pays for dispatch services at $214,534 a year.

In total, Kimble said the proposal for CAL FIRE would total $987,645 while having County employees would cost $936,092.

Anthony Meisner, representing the Mariposa County Fire Officer Association, said there is “no question” that CAL FIRE is “imminently qualified.” But, he said, the “vast majority of volunteers don’t want” a contract with CAL FIRE.

He also said in the proposal put forth by the volunteers, there was no paid captain in the proposal, saying that would be significant savings. That captain is to be the person in charge of training of volunteers.

Lori Setterberg, a volunteer EMT with County Fire, said she was against the proposal for CAL FIRE.

“We would rather have our own boss,” she said.

Ron Setterberg, a volunteer, said he felt the information given was “misleading” and a “misrepresentation” of the actual number.

He also said he thought County officials were not taking the opinions of the volunteers seriously.

“We’re listened to, but we have not been heard on this subject,” he said.

But another volunteer, Carol Williams of Lushmeadows, had a different take.

“There are volunteers with the County Fire Department who are more in favor of the CAL FIRE model,” she said.

The reasons, she said, is difficulties with past chiefs employed by the County.

She said the department needs “stability” and “more structure.”

She also had praise for Binnewies, who she said does not deserve “all the negative comments.”

Meisner questioned how response would be enhanced with “three administrators?”

Koerperich said CAL FIRE has 145 agreements with local agencies in Calfornia. She also stressed the people hired by the County would be representing Mariposa County, including working within the government and seeking board approval on issues.

Binnewies was asked by Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe about his plan when he began working on this issue nearly three years ago.

“The long-term goal was to stabilize the department,” said the sheriff.

He said they explored various options, including the concept of having CAL FIRE take command and control of the County department.

“My view is that CAL FIRE has a lot to offer Mariposa County,” said Binnewies. “Ultimately, our community will be the winners.”

The sheriff talked about “dark stations” throughout the County where there are no volunteers who are able to respond to emergencies.

One of the hopes of an agreement with CAL FIRE is they will be able to enhance recruitment efforts and get more volunteers. Koerperich said that will be a goal of CAL FIRE.

“This has not been easy for everybody,” said Supervisor Merlin Jones. “Change is always hard ... but change is necessary.”

He also stressed the fact CAL FIRE would be able to conduct regular fire marshal inspections, something that is not currently happening.

Jones said that is a liability.

It was reported during the meeting that places like schools and hotels, which are supposed to get annual inspections, are not taking currently place.

Koerperich said that if CAL FIRE does take over command and control, they have to do fire code inspections because it is state law.

Board chairman Marshall Long said there is “no other county in California with our demographics that has an independent fire chief.”

It was also pointed out the proposal is for a one-year contract and that it can be modified over time.

In the end, all supervisors agreed to have County staff come back with a formal contract at the April 25 meeting, at which time there will be a vote.

Kimble said that contract will likely be the same one that was presented and discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

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I've been to meetings and

I've been to meetings and I've read everything I can get my hands on about this subject. I still can't find a reason why this change is so important. The figures indicate that it will cost more. I understand we had a fire chief that was not well liked in the past but he's gone. Why is a change "necessary?" I have yet to find an explanation.

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