By LENORE RUTHERFORD
Camaraderie and some friendly competition is evident at Tuolumne Fire Protection District, thanks in part to a $300,000 annual influx of cash since the nearby Black Oak Casino opened its doors in May 2001.
The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk, which owns the casino, agreed to pay the fire district $300,000 a year as part of a memorandum of understanding with Tuolumne County, increasing the district's total annual budget to $334,960.
The first thing the extra money allowed the district to do was go from a totally volunteer district to a combination of volunteer and paid firefighters.
District directors hired Keven Patton, who had been the volunteer chief for seven years, as a full-time paid chief. At age 29, Patton is the youngest fire chief in Tuolumne County.
James Rafferty was later hired as a training officer and engineer and Jon Rock as an engineer.
Another big change was paying the 21 active volunteers $20 each time they respond to an emergency or training session and $7 per hour for maintaining equipment and other work they do at the firehouse.
That program started in July, and Patton reported to the district's board of directors last week on its success during the first six months.
Since the "paid call" program was implemented in July, Patton said, the district has paid volunteers a total of $7,400 for responding to emergencies, $10,000 for work at the firehouse and $1,000 for attending training sessions.
He said the volunteers have always had good morale, but he notices a bit more camaraderie since the paid call program has been in place. And the average number of volunteers responding to each emergency has increased from two or three to four or five.
"They are competing to see who gets to the most calls in a year," he said. "I see people looking in the book all the time to check out who has the most calls."
Mike Capuccini, chairman of the district board of directors, said much is being accomplished that couldn't have been done on the annual budget of $34,960 the district receives in tax revenue.