Mad River Union
MCKINLEYVILLE/ARCATA – The chief of the Arcata Fire Protection District (AFD) has named recruitment of volunteer firefighters as a major challenge, as their numbers have dropped sharply over the years.
District Chief Justin McDonald is president of the Humboldt County Fire Chiefs’ Association, whose annual report was released earlier this month and details firefighting and emergency services for 2017.
The AFD had 17 volunteer responders in 2017, eight less than the previous year and 22 career firefighters, which was three less than the year before.
The district responded to 3,156 incidents within its 61-mile coverage area in 2017, 226 more than the previous year.
The responses represent a total of 4,498 volunteer firefighting hours and 7,140 incident hours for the district’s staff firefighters. Volunteers also committed 2,722 hours to training.
There were responses to 188 fires of various types, including 57 structure fires. Medical responses comprised the district’s greatest call volume – medical emergencies drew 1,442 responses. There were 106 responses to vehicle accidents and 498 public assistance responses.
The report also notes that the district continues “to experience increasing call volumes due to the growth of our communities.”
The annual report was presented to the Board of Supervisors at its Nov. 13 meeting.
During the supervisors presentation, McDonald said maintaining volunteer levels is “one of the biggest challenges” the county faces.
“Recruiting and retaining has been difficult with the increased demand on our volunteers’ available hours,” he continued. “It’s been due to the increases in training requirements, incident responses and other department needs.”
He noted that countywide fire department volunteer time reached 108,301 hours in 2017. “That’s a lot of time for people to donate,” McDonald said.
The AFD’s volunteer levels have decreased over time. McDonald said the district had over 40 volunteer firefighters several years ago but currently has only 10.
“That’s a huge drop,” he continued.
The challenges, needs and responsibilities will be evaluated as the chiefs’ association develops a strategic plan for the next decade.
The association is also working with the county on planning for district expansions to address out-of-district responses.
The AFD’s segment of the annual firefighting report also states that “providing quality training for our members is critical” and the district is seeking Measure Z public safety tax funding for a training tower and a burn trailer that “will be shared countywide and will provide all members with high quality, realistic training.”
The report also recognizes the contributions of Allen Masterson, who died on July 1, 2017 and was “the last surviving member of the 1949 crew whose names are inscribed on the dedication plaque at the Arcata Fire Station.”