Arcata Fire reports more fires, fewer volunteers

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HOHUM – ​The Arcata Fire District (AFD) dealt with increased demand for responses last year as its number of volunteers continued to decline, according to a report from the county’s Fire Chiefs Association.

The report shows that a trend of decreased volunteer recruitment continued in 2018. The AFD had 11 volunteer responders in 2018, six less than in 2017. The district’s career personnel was stable “in spite of budgetary cutbacks” at 22 firefighters but there were 25 of them in 2016.

The district responded to 3,357 incidents within its 62-mile coverage area in 2018, 201 more than the previous year.

The responses represent a total of 5,495 incident hours for the district’s firefighters. Volunteers and staff also committed 7,585 hours to training.

There were responses to 196 fires of various types, including 59 structure fires. Medical responses comprised the district’s greatest call volume – medical emergencies drew 1,447 responses. There were 87 responses to vehicle accidents, 682 public assistance responses, 73 hazmat responses and 872 responses of various other types.

The report notes that the district continues “to experience increasing call volumes due to the growth of our communities.”

In addition to covering Arcata, McKinleyville, Manila, Bayside and Jacoby Creek, AFD assisted Mendocino and Butte counties with fighting 2018 wildfires, sending engines and fire officers.

​The association gave a presentation on its annual report at the October 22 supervisors meeting and while the challenges of volunteer recruitment and retention were highlighted, so was community support.

​Arcata Fire District Chief Justin McDonald, who is the association’s president, said almost $6 million of Measure Z public safety sales tax revenue was spent for county firefighting services and equipment last year.

​He related its importance to a “fire emergency” that occurred the week before the meeting, in McKinleyville. “Product placement, right?” he said, referring to the “Measure Z-funded” stickers on the airpacks used by firefighters.

​“It was an all-hands fire for us,” McDonald continued, with departments from Blue Lake, Fieldbrook, Westhaven and CalFire providing aid.

​“As I looked around, our folks were wearing airpacks and gear from Measure Z, Westhaven showed up in their Measure Z-funded fire engine, with their airpacks and turnouts, so it’s pretty impressive – Measure Z has really made a huge difference in fire service throughout the county,” he said.

Most of the county’s 38 firefighting agencies are staffed by volunteers and McDonald said they responded to over 15,000 incidents countywide last year and logged over 119,000 hours of incident response, training, maintenance and fundraising work.

​Fifty-three percent of the responses were related to medical emergencies and motor vehicle accidents and 10 percent were for fires.

“The best part is what the fire department’s all about – it’s everything else,” McDonald said. “Thirty-seven percent of the calls are everything from going out to help somebody up off the ground to the proverbial cat in the tree -- whenever somebody’s having a bad day and needs help, we get called and we come out to assist.”

In a letter to supervisors prefacing the report, McDonald highlights communication between fire chiefs, the County Administrator’s Office and supervisors Mike Wilson and Estelle Fennell for the development of a “comprehensive strategy to annex unprotected areas into fire districts.”

Wilson pointed out that considerable work is done unseen, as administrative tasks are also important to firefighting agencies.

Board Chair Rex Bohn thanked the community for approving and paying the Measure Z tax, saying, “You see it everywhere, there’s a not a volunteer department that hasn’t been blessed, been made whole and a lot safer from those funds.”



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