Arcata Fire picks up the pieces and carries on, but reductions loom

Monday's fire at Sixth and J streets got quick response, but staff and station reductions haven't kicked in yet. Photo by Matt Filar | Union

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

ARCATA/MCKINLEYVILLE – In the wake of the defeat of its tax measure on the March 3 ballot, the Arcata Fire District has reduced its staffing and will likely close one of its three stations.

The cutbacks may result in slower response times to fires and medical emergencies, as well as a general reduction in services provided to communities within the district, which serves Arcata, McKinleyville, Bayside, Jacoby Creek and Manila.

The district is also reexamining its fundings options, and may pursue the same tax measure on the November ballot, although that has yet to be decided.

Faced with deficit spending and dwindling reserves, the district asked voters on March 3 to approve Measure R, a property tax increase. Taxes on an average single-family home would have increased by $98 a year.

 Although a majority of voters supported the tax, the measure fell short of the two-thirds approval it needed to pass.

According to uncertified results from the Humboldt County Elections Office, Measure R received 5,894 yes votes, or 60.57 percent, and 3,837 no votes, or 39.43 percent. The measure fell short by 593 yes votes.

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The AFD Board of Directors convened on March 10 at the Arcata Fire Station to deal with its new budget reality.

The board decided to eliminate overtime pay that was used to keep all three of its stations staffed with two firefighters each, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The district had two vacant positions, which it made up for by paying firefighters overtime to fill the shifts. Those positions will now remain vacant and uncovered.

The district will also eliminate a firefighter position that covered for an employee who is out on long-term disability as he battles cancer.

The changes will save the district about $70,000 through the end of the fiscal year.

The reduced staffing means that only two of the district’s three stations will be staffed and open at any given time. Fire Chief Justin McDonald told directors that the station closures will rotate week to week, so no single station is permanently closed.

“That way not one part of our community is penalized,”  McDonald said.

The closure was supposed to start on March 11, the day after the AFD board met. 

However, McDonald later learned that the closure could not take place until the district confers with the union that represents the firefighters. That meeting may take place this week.

The three stations are the Arcata Station, located in Downtown Arcata at  631 Ninth St.; the Mad River Station at 3235 Janes Rd. near Mad River Community Hospital; and the McKinleyville Station & District Headquarters. at 2149 Central Ave. in McKinleyville.

About the closures,  McDonald said “It’s not ideal.” 

“By using the rotational brownout option, the district should be able to use the next four months to collect data on response times, as well as apparatus needs and fuel use from two stations instead of three,” McDonald said.

In the event that voters don’t approve a future tax measure, the data could be used to determine which station to permanently close.

The board will meet on Tuesday, May 24 at 5:30 p.m. at the Arcata Fire Station to discuss whether to place the tax measure on the Nov. 3 ballot, or whether to pursue other options. 

The district is also looking at possible service reductions when it comes to public education, smoke detector testing, public assists and other non-emergency responses. 

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that 60 percent of the voters voted for this and I want to thank them for that,” said Randy Mendosa, a member of the AFD Board of Directors, at its March 10 meeting. “It is critical that we stay professional. We owe it to them and we owe it to our constituents that we do our best with what we have.”

Mendoza said that the district needs to maintain its mutual aid agreements with surrounding fire departments.

“We need those outside agencies to come and help us,” Mendosa said. “We can’t give up folks. This is too important.”



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