Vote YES on Measure A, the Arcata Fire Benefit Assessment

Mad River Union Editorial

You may never be among the 2,700 residents who will call the Arcata Fire Protection District for service this year. But someday, you just might. None of the people who found themselves needing urgent assistance anticipated being in that situation either.

But stuff happens – to you, your relatives and your neighbors. You never know what’s coming, and not all surprises are pleasant.

When the time comes that you do need Arcata Fire, you’re going to want them there right now to help your burning house, your blue, choking child or your passenger pinned inside a crashed car. Or simply to help your grandmother who has fallen and can’t get up.
You’re also going to want these first responders to have the equipment they need, and the training to operate it properly.
In between the incident taking place and the time firefighters appear, it’s likely that you would pay virtually anything to get these rescuers on scene as soon as possible with all the resources required to do their job.
So far, thankfully, this is what we have with Arcata Fire. Which begs the question: why should you vote to charge yourself 26 more cents a day for service you’re already getting?
With Measure A, Arcata Fire is asking for $96 a year more from the average single family residence. It’s not a small figure – easily equivalent to a great night for two out on the town.
This sum is requested to assure that we will continue to have, into the future, the services and protection of the first-class, progressive fire department that we enjoy today.
The world doesn’t stand still, and more public safety tasks are being heaped on Arcata Fire all the time. To meet these challenges, the department is transitioning from a volunteer force to one mostly composed of professional firefighters.
It hasn’t been easy. Dragging into the 21st century what had been a small-town men’s club – complete with a wet bar and pool table at its main station – has meant a cultural revolution in an organization that dates back to the 1800s and is steeped in tradition. The saloon fixtures are now gone, but even within the department, modernization has been wrenching and not without resentment for some.
The department has come a long way from 10 years ago, when firefighters were rushing to emergencies in fire engines so rickety that they themselves sometimes caught on fire en route. Arcata Fire has gone from one firefighter per fire engine to two, and if Measure A passes, calls can be met around the clock by three vehicles staffed with three firefighters, offering vastly more comprehensive response.
But the modernization is a work in progress, and there’s much more vital work waiting to be done.
We’re not interested in giving the department a blank check, and it isn’t asking for one. The per capita cost is about $142 per year, well below what other departments charge.
Arcata Firefighters are adequately paid, but not shockingly so. Visit and poke around. Compare Arcata Fire salaries to those of firefighters in other communities. You’ll find Arcata Fire salaries higher than some departments, and much lower than others.
As with any other labor force, if you cheap out, you are going to have to settle for less than the best. Obviously, higher salary/benefit packages are going to be attractive to serious career firefighters, allowing the department to select the most qualified personnel from a larger pool of applicants.
And who are these people anyway? They’re the women and men who are poised to jump up on a moment’s notice from their family dinner, their child’s birthday party and sometimes Christmas morning – it does happen – to go rush inside some burning building to save you or your loved ones.
The work is grueling, at times painful and always dangerous. Some of the things these firefighters see – and can’t un-see – are on a level of unpleasantness that you or I would probably choose not to contemplate.
When grow houses started bursting into flames, Arcata firefighters trained on how to crawl underneath fallen, burning electrical wires to save the people who put themselves and their rescuers in danger.
When automakers started using airbags and high-strength steel in cars, Arcata firefighters trained on how to extricate accident victims from the fortified vehicles. Even hybrid and electric cars pose new hazards – the power supply has to be isolated, and Arcata Fire knows how to do this.
Whenever Homeland Security puts a fresh mandate on Arcata Fire, it readily takes on the new duties, such as spotting intentional destruction when it happens, from threats to water supplies to anthrax.
None of these nouveau problems were on the radar 20 years ago, and 20 years from now there will likely be even more unanticipated perils to public safety to understand and be prepared for.
Then too, whenever someone so much as faints anywhere in their 62-square-mile jurisdiction, Arcata Fire drops everything and rolls to the scene, lights and sirens blazing.
In between the heroics, the firefighters are training incessantly, doing fire inspections, education and outreach. They’re always in motion.
And don’t forget – the $4 billion in property Arcata Fire is charged with protecting is located right square in earthquake and tsunami country.
If Measure A passes, all of this – Arcata Fire and everything it does – will end up costing you a whole 39 cents per day. As to what fraction of a cup of coffee that is, you do the math based on your beverage preference. It’s just a few gulps, by any measure.
We still haven’t heard a convincing argument that these professionals and volunteers, and the spectrum of services they provide, aren’t worth these few coins.
As has been pointed out, area taxpayers are already paying multiple special assessments, and this is one more.
Unfortunately, that fact doesn’t diminish the fire and medical risks we face in our daily lives, and our need for a smart and motivated force that can rise to meet them on a moment’s notice.
As has happened to so many of the 37,000 citizens for whom Arcata Fire is responsible, there may come a moment in your life when the most welcome sight imaginable will be arriving fire engines disgorging fully-equipped firefighters to address your emergency.
Or you may be lucky and never need them. But good luck isn’t something on which to pin the well-being of your family or business.
Let’s give Arcata Fire and its dedicated crew a vote of confidence, and the tools and training they need to come to our aid in life’s most dire moments.
Vote Yes on Measure A.

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