In the summer of 2015, the Mendocino County Fire Safe Council circulated a detailed questionnaire in which local fire chiefs expressed their departments’ needs. The main issues facing local fire departments were identified as follows:
- Diminishing numbers of younger, able-bodied volunteer firefighters available in rural areas due to two main causes: a) high housing costs which prohibit younger families from purchasing or even renting homes in rural areas, and b) lack of employment in the same areas. A case in point is the Leggett and Piercy area, many of whose younger adults commute north to Humboldt County to work and are not available to respond in northern Mendocino County during the daytime. Although most departments report being able to cover tuition for training, they cannot cover travel or lost time from the trainee’s regular job.
- Laws and regulations imposed upon local fire departments by the state legislature and other governmental entities. The heightened requirements and liability resulting from such unfunded mandates are expensive and difficult for small rural volunteer departments.
- Lack of funds to replace aging and obsolete equipment necessary for both firefighter safety and effective fire suppression. Many departments are dependent gifts of equipment from larger departments or on grants from the federal Assistance to Firefighters program for the purchase of fire engines, protective gear, and other costly equipment. Departments fortunate enough to receive grants for fire engines still face the requirement to raise 10% to 25% of the total amount as a “match.”
- A large number of emergency calls for which costs are not recovered. These are primarily of two kinds, about which details were given above:
- a) Traffic collisions involving non-residents. Highways 101, 20, 253, 128, and Highway 1 on the coast all see numerous traffic accidents per month. As these roads are major arteries for tourists, a good percentage of their accidents involve persons from out of county; and response costs of local fire agencies may not be recoverable.
- b) Calls to fires and medical aids outside of taxing districts. Local fire personnel routinely respond to emergency calls outside of their districts – and outside of any district — from a sense of duty. Such services are essentially provided free of charge.
- The requirement of all special districts to complete Municipal Service Reviews every five years. These MSRs require time and the payment of fees beyond the capability of most rural fire districts. But if no current MSR exists, no development whatsoever may be allowed in the district.