Arcata Fire wants more firefighters

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

ARCATA – As part of its modernization plans, the Arcata Fire Protection District hopes to increase its staffing in the coming years.

safe_imageThe goal is to bring the district closer to National Fire Protection Association staffing standards and the accepted California industry standard, which are designed to provide a rapid and effective response to incidents, as well as improve firefighter safety.

“We’re aspiring to be a modern organization in a modern community,” said Fire Chief Desmond Cowan.

The district currently has two career firefighters assigned to each of its three stations – McKinleyville, Mad River and downtown Arcata. The district serves McKinleyville, Arcata, Bayside and Manila.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends at least four firefighters per engine, allowing two firefighters to enter a burning building, while two are outside prepared to rescue them. A four-person crew is safer and more effective than a three- or two-person crew, according to Cowan.facebook-like-button

The district now has 21 career firefighters. In order to meet the national standard, it would need to hire 33 additional firefighters, bringing the total to 54.

Meeting this standard, however, would be too expensive, according to the strategic plan. It would raise fire district taxes by four to 10 times over what residents now pay.

Instead, the strategic plan calls for a compromise, adding an additional 15 firefighters. This would bring Arcata Fire up to the same configuration as Humboldt Bay Fire, which covers the Eureka area. That department has four engines each staffed with three firefighters and one truck staffed with four firefighters.

“To mirror this alignment, the district could staff three personnel at the downtown [Arcata] site, three personnel at the McKinleyville site and... staff four personnel at the Mad River site who could engage either the truck or an engine depending on the incident and response need,” states the strategic plan.

Cowan noted that the area served by Arcata Fire has dramatically changed over the decades, while Arcata Fire staffing has not.

subscribebutton“We are simply trying to come up to the accepted industry standard in the California fire service for an organization that provides emergency services to a community of this size and complexity,” Cowan said.

In order to pay for the increased staffing, the district may ask voters to pay more taxes. Before doing so, Cowan said the district needs to hold hearings and get public input. The AFPD Board of Directors would ultimately need to approve the tax measure before it goes to the voters. This process is expected to take place in the next year or two.

“It’s important to note that any changes have to be reasonable and incremental. As we prepared for the 2006 Benefit Assessment and during the Benefit Assessment review we conducted last year, community members told us that we needed to come back for incremental improvements and continue to build the organization. They were clear that we shouldn’t sit back and wait for a crisis,” Cowan said.

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