By MIKE JENSEN
It may not be the geographical center of Tuolumne but for some, the Tuolumne fire house is the communitys center.
A block from the town square, the two-story tan building is used by the 22 volunteer firefighters and their families for everything from fire training to birthday parties. When a fire call goes out, firefighters dash to the scene and their spouses flock to the firehouse to listen to the radio or to fire lines to cook for the crews.
Now, for the first time in its nearly 100-year history of battling fires with an all volunteer staff, Tuolumne Fire Protection District Hose Company No. 1 has three full-time employees including the youngest fire chief in Tuolumne County.
Thanks to funds from the Black Oak Casino, Tuolumne Fire Protection District has hired local resident Keven Patton as the chief and two engineers, Jeff Whiting and James Rafferty, also both of Tuolumne County.
According to Patton, having a paid staff means better fire protection for residents living between Standard Park and Twain Harte.
We werent able to guarantee a response, he said, explaining that the volunteers have full-time jobs.
To Stacy Burns, a member of Hose Company No. 1s Womens Auxiliary, a full time staff means less time cleaning the fire house.
They werent always the best at doing that, she said of the volunteers.
To offset impacts of the Black Oak Casinos dependence on the small fire department, the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians agreed to pay the Tuolumne Fire Protection District $300,000 per year.
Thats up from the $50,000 per year the district receives from taxes and the average $3,500 raised through fund-raisers.
So far, the Tuolumne fire district has bought nine new breathing apparatuses, replaced eight fire nozzles and 2,500 feet of fire hose.
A lot of the stuff we had had been in use for 20 years, Patton said.
Within the next five years the district hopes to replace two of its engines, hire two more full-time firefighters and replace the districts old stand pipes with fire hydrants.