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Douglas fire districts under discussion

by Linda Hiller

A Jacks Valley home owner who also happens to be the volunteer fire chief for that area is taking his message to governmental groups that might be interested in the possibility of redistricting Douglas County’s complicated fire districts.

Mike Bournazian, 31, fire chief for the Jacks Valley Volunteer Fire Department since January, asked the county commission May 18 to consider reviewing the proposed merger of fire protection districts in the Truckee Meadows, because one of those districts, the Sierra Fire District, covers part of Douglas County.

The other two districts in the county are the Tahoe-Douglas, which is mostly in the Sierra, and the East Fork District, covering the east half of the county.

Douglas County contributes more than $300,000 to the Sierra Fire District, Bournazian said.

“Are we really getting our money’s worth?” he asked the commission. “What we, as property owners, are proposing, is to make one fire district.”

One of the ways to improve financial efficiency and keep Douglas County money in Douglas County could be accomplished by dissolving the Sierra Fire District, which is administered by the state-run Nevada Division of Forestry, and have East Fork take over, Bournazian said.

– NDF will come to table. Rich Harvey, fire chief of the Sierra Fire Protection District, said he is always willing to “come to the table” and discuss anything that would make fire protection in Douglas County better.

“It would have to provide as good as, or better, service to residents, though,” he said. “We don’t want to see the coverage drop.”

Bournazian said he is also concerned about what he says is NDF’s poor treatment of the volunteer force, which constitutes 200 active people in the Carson Valley through East Fork. The Sheridan Fire Department also interfaces with NDF.

“We have substandard equipment and that’s what I mean by poor treatment of the volunteers,” he said. “It’s all about equipment – we had to wait for our personal protection gear and that’s just criminal. On the other hand, East Fork has great gear and supports us with classes all the time.”

“We have a program in place to replace the old equipment,” Harvey said. “We have a new tender that will be going in there.”

– Former chief speaks. Bournazian has also made formal presentations about redistricting to the Indian Hills General Improvement District and the Alpine View Property Owners board of directors.

He said the complicated process of redistricting would only be undertaken if he felt the majority of residents and firefighters supported it.

“We’d still have a mutual aid agreement with them,” Bournazian said. “Eighty percent of our calls are medical, anyway. Last year, we only responded to two structure fires, but that was not a typical year.”

Jim Reinhardt, 50, former chief of the East Fork Fire District who retired May 19, is in a unique position – he worked for NDF for 17 years as fire management officer for the western region.

“The main issue with me is how NDF doesn’t support their volunteers,” Reinhardt said. “It didn’t used to be like that, but this administration isn’t as supportive of the volunteer. It was one of the reasons I left NDF.”

Reinhardt was still in high school when he first volunteered to fight fires with the Washoe Valley Volunteer Fire Department in 1968.

Now, 32 years later, he has high regard for the volunteers and said they should be valued and treated well by, among other things, giving them the safest, most up-to-date equipment.

“If they want to support the volunteers, they need to offer training and make sure they have proper protective clothing in a timely manner and better vehicle maintenance,” Reinhardt said. “If I were king for a day, I’d make NDF and East Fork sit down and talk about utilizing the resources here.

“I’d have the county commission and the county manager all sit down with NDF and East Fork and look at the best way to provide fire protection in this Valley, especially as it grows, which is going to require East Fork and NDF to have to eventually put on more paid firefighters – that is inevitable.”

– Paid staff more available during day. NDF uses a paid staff, providing 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. coverage in the Ridgeview station in Indian Hills. The volunteer staff is largely employed during the day and not as readily available, Harvey said.

“This is not to say that a paid staff is better than a volunteer staff, but show me where the volunteers can cover the daytime hours as well as the paid staff,” he said. “The volunteers and the career firefighters are capable of doing the same level of work, it’s just that the volunteers usually have other jobs from 8 to 5. This is key to response time during the day.”

Bournazian said he may go before the Indian Hills General Improvement District again, but for the most part, he will be laying low until the new fire chief is selected.

“I sat down with Rich Harvey on Monday (May 22) and he doesn’t want a petition, but my sense is that the commissioners want to look at the issue,” he said. “For now, I think we’re going to cool our jets until the new fire chief comes on.”

At their May 18 meeting, county commissioners agreed the merger should be reviewed.

“We need to anticipate what’s happening,” said commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen.

“I live in Jacks Valley, too, and I’m paying a little bit more, but we do benefit more,” Reinhardt said. “I think the redistricting is worth taking a look at, but we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot by kicking NDF out.”