Coronavirus calms Arcata Fire calls

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

ARCATA/MCKINLEYVILLE – The Arcata Fire District has seen a drop in calls since Humboldt’s shelter-in-place order when into effect March 19. 

Arcata Fire Chief Justin McDonald told the AFD Board of Directors at a meeting April 14 that the total calls for March were 253 with more than half of them for rescues and emergency medical assistance. The monthly average is about 300 calls, he said.

Pandemic precautions

The fire district – which serves McKinleyville, Arcata, Bayside and Manila – has taken precautions to protect its staff and the public from the coronavirus.

All district facilities are closed to the public. The district has canceled multi-agency and multi-company trainings. Fire inspections are suspended. 

Crew members are wearing masks when interacting with the  public, and full medical personal protection gear when responding to medical calls.

The district has also ramped up the cleaning and disinfecting of crew quarters and equipment.

Station closures

Due to the failure of Measure R on March 3, the district is only operating two of its three stations, with closures rotated every eight days. 

This week through April 24, the McKinleville Station at 2149 Central Ave. will be closed. From April 25 to May 2, the Mad River Station at 3235 Janes Rd. in Arcata will be closed, From May 3 to May 10 the Arcata Downtown Station at 631 Ninth St. will be closed. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Another measure?

At its April 14 meeting, the board discussed, but did not decide, whether to place another measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Chief McDonald said he was contacted by Mark Rynearson of McKinleyville about having the community organize in support of another measure. The idea, McDonald explained, is that the community would lead the effort.

Boardmember Randy Mendosa noted that the election results were close, with 63.03 percent of voters supporting the measure which needed 66 percent to pass.

“I love the idea Mark Rynearson has of making this community driven,” Mendosa said.

During public comments, a man asked whether the district had decided to pursue the ballot measure and whether it was looking at charging for some of the services it provides.

McDonald said the district has not decided whether to pursue it and is looking at charging for some of its services.

Mendosa said that although he’s only one of five district board members, he’s going to “push hard” for having a measure on the November ballot.

He said having a station closed and fewer staff on duty “is a crisis.”

“We’re going to be going out of the pandemic and into the fire season,” Mendosa said.

The board has until July 1 to inform the Humboldt County Elections Office that it wants a measure on the ballot. A proposed ordinance and resolution for the measure would need to be submitted to the elections office by Aug. 7.

Budget update

The board received an update on the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. The nearly $3.4 million budget is expected to have a surplus of $333,804. That’s an improvement over the current fiscal year, which has a deficit of $241,879.

The biggest expense is personnel. The district has 17 full-time employees and three part-time employees.

There are a lot of unknowns going into the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

With the economy cratered, many businesses closed and people out of work, will residents be able to pay their property taxes?

In a report to the board, McDonald wrote “The County Tax Collector has indicated that there is a possibility that the collection rate could be down by 10 percent.”

Sales tax revenues are also expected to decline. 

“At the end of this month, the County should be depositing our second installment of the property tax revenues. At that point, we will be able to see if there is a reduction in revenues that will affect this fiscal year’s budget and or next years,” McDonald wrote.

Arcata Fire's Bayside property.

Surplus property

The district board voted 3-1, with director David Rosen dissenting and director Elena David absent, to declare land it owns at 1127 Old Arcata Rd. in Bayside as surplus property. The board’s action will allow the district to sell the property.

The .77-acre parcel at the intersection of Old Arcata Road and Anderson Lane was purchased by the district in 1993 for a Bayside fire station. 

“However, the Bayside area has had little growth since 1993 and the property has been used mostly for storage since that time,” stated McDonald in a report to the board.

The district has to pay someone to mow the parcel every year and recently had to pay for the removal of an RV that someone dumped on the property.

Director Rosen questioned whether this was the best time to try to sell the property, given the downturn in the market.

McDonald said by declaring the property surplus, the board is giving staff a green light to consult with a real estate about the best course of action for the property.

Zooming on zoom

The April 14 meeting was the second electronic meeting for the board. Its first was on March 24, when it used Google Hangouts. This time the board used Zoom, which shows participants’ faces on a computer screen if they turn on their webcams.

There is one large image, which is the person who is currently speaking. Smaller images of participants are shown at the top or side of the screen. Participants can turn off their webcams and audio if they choose.

Although the meetings are held electronically, they are still open to the public and time is set aside for public comment. You can log into the meetings using a computer or you can call in using a phone.

Agendas for the Arcata Fire District meetings, as well as the codes for Zoom,  are posted at 




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