Arcata Police Association: Don’t defund the Fire Department, vote yes on Measure F



There’s no national conversation on “defund the fire department” – it’s an absurd notion. But over the last 14 years the Arcata Fire District has essentially been defunded, with revenue staying flat and the price of everything going up. If you are one of the 37,000 people protected by Arcata Fire anything aside from a “yes” vote on Measure F is a vote to defund and dismantle your fire department.

When the Arcata Downtown Station became fully operational in 2013 the southern end of the Fire District had true rapid response for the first time. As a first responder for nearly 2 decades, the last 10+ years with the City of Arcata, I’ve worked all types of incidents in all sorts of conditions. I saw firsthand what a dramatic difference having a third staffed fire station meant. Five minutes can seem like nothing, a tiny segment of your day. Five minutes spent doing solo CPR, calming someone trapped in their car, or keeping an anguished resident from running into their burning home becomes a day for you, and an eternity for those involved.

Reality: those five minutes have real, impactful, and lasting effects for everyone involved. They are your friends and neighbors. They may be you and your family.

A “no” vote means increased response times and losing resources our community needs. It means consolidating operations in one station and selling equipment. Fire at the old Ray’s on Central Ave., or the nightmare scenario of one building on the Plaza extending fire to another? Perfect call for aerial apparatus - too bad we had to sell the ladder truck. 3-car collision with multiple extrications needed? Too bad we had to sell the rescue truck.

Reality: In the near future Arcata Fire might not be able to go to medical aid calls. Arcata Mad River Ambulance provides outstanding service, but there are just two ambulances at any given time. Who do you want working to save the life of your loved one: well-meaning passerby, a cop or deputy with basic First Aid and CPR, or a well-trained and experienced EMT or medic who does this for a living?

This isn’t propaganda or a scare tactic. These are the very real and predictable outcomes of a “no” vote. 10 years of AFD budgets are available on their website. Pick them apart, learn what real-world expenses are, and cross-reference these budgets with any other professional fire service in the State of California. You’ll see there is no fat and very little meat. If Measure F fails we’re not just down to the bone, we’re digging into the marrow.

Subscribe to the Mad River Union and enjoy online access to the full print edition for just $20/year!

For some perspective let’s take a look at our neighbors, Humboldt Bay Fire. The Arcata Fire District receives 90% of it’s funding from in-district property taxes – stable but with no compensation for inflation. Humboldt Bay Fire is funded 35% by property taxes in the unincorporated part of Eureka and 65 percent from the Eureka general fund – less stable in the short term but with inflation offset by growth in the Eureka economy as a whole. The form of the taxes are different, but both departments receive their funding from the citizens they serve.

AFD serves 37,000 people, HBF 55,000. In 2018 AFD averaged .09 calls for service per resident, HBF 0.12. On average, for every call for service AFD has $1,349 budgeted, HBF has $1,391. So far the comparisons make things look roughly even, but that’s about to change.

The AFD 2019 budget for expenses was $4.5 million, and for HBF it was $9.4 million. That comes out to an average tax burden of $122 per resident for Arcata Fire and $171 for Humboldt Bay Fire, a 40 percent difference. At that level of funding Arcata, fully staffed, has four line-level firefighters on-duty at a time, 1 for every 9250 residents. Humboldt Bay has 16, 1 for every 3438 residents.

Some of you are thinking that surely, it’s the fat-cat salaries and benefits for the firefighters that’s weighing them down. Nope. A career firefighter for AFD, at the very top of the pay scale, earns $47,500 per year, 17 percent less than HBF, with no benefits outside the norm for public safety.

Reality: If you want insurance you need to pay for it. Arcata Fire provides life and homeowners insurance, and every person in the district benefits from it. They need a rate adjustment on the premium you pay for that insurance, the first adjustment in 14 years. Can you say that about your car, home, life, or medical insurance? Following that metaphor, without Measure F your insurance deductible goes way, way up. Only that deductible isn’t just money, it’s your home and maybe your life.

Vote yes on Measure F.

Richard Bergstresser is the President of the Arcata Police Association, which represents all non- management employees, sworn and non-sworn, of the Arcata Police Department.


Related posts