East Fork to seek grant to hire firefighters | RecordCourier.com

East Fork to seek grant to hire firefighters

Staff Reports

East Fork firefighters train on the roof of the old Saletti's building in March 2017.

A grant could help fund up to five new East Fork first responders next year.

Members of the East Fork Fire District Board approved applying for a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responses once guidelines are announced.

East Fork Chief Tod Carlini said the grant will pay three-quarters of the district's cost for the firefighters over the first two years.

He said the grants were created to fund fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations to increase the number of "frontline firefighters."

"The East Fork Fire Protection District has been challenged for the past 10 years to increase its staffing levels," Carlini said. "With sharp declines in volunteers, the loss of revenue during the great recession, followed by initial impacts from the Affordable Health Care act, the district has not had the funding capacity to fund additional positions."

For nine months, the district reduced daily staffing by one position due to financial constraints, Carlini said. The positions have since been filled.

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While the district has not filled a fire inspector or a deputy chief position, it has seen a 4-6 percent annual increase in calls.

Standards of coverage were revised by the East Fork board to deal with a volume that reaches 28-35 calls on some days.

"The group assembled to revise this work was able to rely on data to drive the vast majority of recommendations," Carlini said. "The bottom line is that we need additional personnel to not only meet our internal objectives, increase responder safety, but more importantly, the growing service demands from our constituents."

Carlini said that during 2017, the district responded to 6,541 calls for service. The district expects to see a 4-5 percent increase in 2018.

"The district is equally challenged by its geography and some of its transport distances," he said. "Patients are routinely transferred to medical facilities in Carson City and Reno. Transfers to Reno consume three hours generally speaking, which in turn places a higher demand on the remaining resources."

The grant lasts three years and will cost the district $729,780 with the grant providing $1.089 million.

The grant will pay three-quarters of the total during the first two years and then 35 percent for the third year.

Carlini said the new positions would allow the district to provide three-person staffing on all of its four staffed engines and provide staffing to deploy an additional rescue ambulance 40 hours per week and potentially flex staffing of an additional 40-hour firefighting resource with the call back of a single fire captain and movement of engineers and acting engineers during critical periods, such as red flag warnings.

Carlini said surrounding fire departments, including Tahoe-Douglas and Central Lyon County, have received grants to hire firefighters.

The grant has been around for some time, but awards tended to go to agencies with layoffs or major urban areas.

"In some cases there have been agencies that have been awarded the grant and then opted not to accept it due to changes in their financial capacities," he said. "Other agencies have used SAFER grants to transition all volunteer forces to combination forces of both paid and volunteer personnel."

East Fork has combined volunteer and career fire staff for many years.

Carlini said volunteers are still in demand to fill the logistical rolls of water tender operators, incident support, and wildland firefighting.

"Public safety in general is a very labor intensive service that we provide," Carlini said. "Having adequate numbers of both career personnel and volunteers will provide for safer operations, increase efficiency and redundancy, and an overall enhanced product to the public."

Many of the district's senior personnel are nearing retirement.

"We are seeing many of our senior personnel enter the area or retirement eligibility, which means we will start to see a lot of new faces."

One of the challenges is maintaining a competitive wage and benefit package for both recruitment and retention of firefighters and medics.

"We are able to offer some great opportunities to those who want to work in a very busy fire service based emergency medical services program," said Deputy Fire Chief, David Fogerson. "Because of our geography and transport times, our medics have the opportunity for more patient contact and are able to see the impacts of their treatment. Our medics make every call a very personal contact with the public."

East Fork is also one of the largest suppliers of both in state and out of state mutual aid to regional wildland fire suppression, Carlini said. All mutual aid costs are recovered through cost reimbursements at all levels.

"The experience that our personnel are able to garner by participating in mutual aid assignments has without a doubt made the organization as a whole extremely proficient in wildland fire management," he said. "I am very proud of what they do and what they bring back to the organization."

Depending on the grant timelines and if the district were successful, the soonest that the positions could be filled would be in the latter part of 2018 or the Spring 2019.