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Fire Lessons

What I Hope We Learned
from the October Fires

May 29, 2018

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By Greg Karraker, Director, Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District

Our phone rang off the hook at 4:10 AM on October 9. It was a panicked friend, telling my wife that Rohnert Park was on fire, being evacuated, and that we should leave immediately, even though we live much closer to Penngrove.

I immediately called Rancho Adobe Station 2 to understand what was happening, and wound up spending most of the week there, answering phones, correcting false rumors on social media, and getting a first-hand look at the firefighters who save lives and property every day, but whose existence people take mostly for granted.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

Most importantly, these guys put duty above everything else. On October 10, I saw a crew come in, covered in dirt and ashes, and dead on their feet. They had been on the front line, with no sleep, and with only the water and snacks on their trucks, for 36 hours. After a shower and just a few hours’ sleep, they were pacing the floor, ready to head out for another shift, and climbing the walls in frustration because they weren’t dispatched immediately. There was even one firefighter who lost his house in Coffey Park, but soon as he knew his family was OK, couldn’t wait to get back out and kick the fire’s ass.

These are the people who keep you and me safe, but they are at risk of being laid off.

These firefighters are at risk of having the Rancho Adobe fire stations they work out of closed every third day. If this happens, response times could double, putting lives and property at risk. Because unless something changes, there might not be enough money to keep them on the job.

The fire district recently completed its Five Year Plan, and unfortunately, it shows deficits that range from over $200,000 this year to over a million dollars in Year 5. How did this come to be? Since 1993, when Rancho Adobe was founded, most homeowners have paid a parcel tax of $40 per household, which is less than $24 in today’s dollars, or only $3.50 per month. It contributes approximately $300,000 to the District’s $4.1 million annual budget. There are other factors as well, and they can all be seen on the Rancho Adobe web site: www.rafd.org

Would budget cuts make it possible to keep all three stations open? 

Budgets are already cut to the bone. Rancho Adobe part-time Firefighters are only paid $15 an hour. Full-time Engineers, Captains, and Battalion Chiefs receive base pay that is 22% lower than neighboring districts. Pensions are 2% a year, instead of the usual 3% a year.

To keep all three stations open, this November Rancho Adobe may ask voters to approve raising the parcel tax to a sustainable level. But instead of just surviving financially from day to day and relying on part-time Firefighters, raising the parcel tax assessment would help Rancho Adobe upgrade personnel from part-time to full-time, and also add 24/7 ambulance service.

Before we know it, fire season will be here again, and so will the November election.So what should you do between now and then? Learn, learn, learn. Learn how to create a defensible space around your home by keeping weeds and other vegetation 100 feet away. Learn about the firefighters who protect you every day and night. And learn about the serious financial threats Rancho Adobe faces, and the different solutions that may be possible.

But please, take a few minutes, and learn about all these important things at www.rafd.org

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