Calaveras fire service reviewed

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat /

Calaveras County fire districts may better serve residents by consolidating, according to a review of services released earlier this month.

The county's 11 districts are largely getting by on aging equipment and stations with shrinking numbers of volunteers and paid staff, as laid out in a 253-page report written by Calaveras County Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Director John Benoit and consultants with the Policy Consulting Associates firm of Palm Springs.

The report is full of praise for the Angels Camp and Ebbetts Pass fire departments but notes deficiencies, particularly in the most outlying areas of the county.

A recommendation is made to consolidate down to a Highway 4 corridor district combining Murphys, Altaville-Melones, Copperopolis, Angels Camp and Ebbetts Pass; Highway 26 corridor including Central Calaveras, West Point, Mokelumne Hill and San Andreas; and Northwestern Calaveras, which now includes Foothill and Jenny Lind districts.

"The primary benefit of consolidation is economies of scale, which are achieved through pooling of resources," the report states. "All the providers in the county closely collaborate and appear to be open to consolidation in some form, which they demonstrated through formal and informal discussions with one another."

The northwestern county districts, Jenny Lind and Foothill, reached an agreement about two years ago to pool resources as Calaveras Consolidated Fire Authority, and reduced from five full-time or part-time fire chiefs down to two.

In June 2012, Copperopolis Fire Protection District hired Steve Kovacs to fill its vacant chief position. Kovacs already served as the Murphys fire chief and now splits time between the two agencies.

The Calaveras County Fire Chiefs' Association, which includes the chiefs of all 11 local agencies, is also in the first year of a four-year, $1.8 million grant focused on recruiting volunteers to replenish ranks that have diminished throughout the years.

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