Questions and answers at the IOV Monthly Meeting - 10/7/2014

Questions and answers about the effect of incorporation on

Fire and Emergency Services in Squaw Valley

Pete Bansen, Chief - Squaw Valley Fire Department

 

The questions in italics were asked of Chief Bansen at the Incorporate Olympic Valley monthly meeting on October 7th.  The replies summarize (in slightly less windy fashion) Chief Bansen's replies to those queries.

 

“Statements have been made that incorporation of Olympic Valley could result in ‘fiscally devastating’ costs to the Town in the event of a wildland fire – is that true?”

First, we need to understand the division of responsibility for providing wildland fire suppression.  The U.S. Forest Service provides service to the National Forest – that would not change.  The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – CalFIRE – protects private, undeveloped land and Squaw Valley Fire Department protects private structures.  That makes it sound as if we largely act independently: nothing could be farther from the truth – we work in very close cooperation and mutual support and enjoy a cordial, positive relationship with all of our cooperating agencies, state and federal.

CalFIRE currently collects a $115/year fire prevention fee in unincorporated areas – that fee would no longer be collected in the incorporated area, but a Town would need to contract for fire suppression services with CalFIRE for the area they currently protect.  In the Town of Truckee, CalFIRE provides protection to just under 7,800 acres within the Town for the cost of $174,766 annually or about $22.43/acre.  It seems likely that the per-acre cost for our area would be very much the same.

Because CalFIRE already provides service to our community, I believe it would be advantageous for a Town to enter into a contract with CalFIRE and I can think of no reason why CalFIRE would be reluctant to continue to provide service on a contract basis.  Contracting with CalFIRE would transfer the responsibility for wildfire suppression – and the potentially extraordinary cost - from a Town to an agency with the resources to effectively manage such an event.

“What changes in fire and emergency services would result from incorporation?”

 My impression is that – as of this time – there would be no changes.  Squaw Valley Public Service District receives a property tax allocation with which fire protection and emergency medical services are funded.  It is my understanding that the proponents of incorporation are not proposing that a Town assume operation of the District and the Fire Department.  We don’t know what would happen after an election to approve incorporation and elect a governing board for a Town, but if the representations made by proponents of incorporation hold, there need be no changes to the range or level of services provided as a result of incorporation, per se.

“When the Intrawest village was built, I understand that they had to buy the fire department a truck.  Would this developer have the same requirement?”

When the Intrawest village was developed, the developer was required to pay fire mitigation fees just as a private residence is required to pay them, but there was no separate or additional requirement for a piece of apparatus.  Currently, our fire mitigation fees are $500 per bedroom and $1.08 per square foot of commercial space.  We will negotiate a development agreement for the Village at Squaw project that will address the fire protection impacts unique to this project so that the fire department can provide an equivalent level of service to that provided to the rest of our service area.

“With the building heights proposed for the Village at Squaw, will the developer be required to purchase an aerial apparatus for you?”

We don’t anticipate that an aerial apparatus will be part of the development agreement.  This has been the subject of a lot of discussion and consideration, both within our Department and with the experts from Citygate Associates; the consultants who developed the analysis of the impacts of the Village on our operation.  The construction features of modern buildings make the use of an aerial nearly obsolete for both fire suppression and rescue.  Furthermore, the aesthetics of placing buildings within a pedestrian village greatly inhibit the access and effective use of an aerial other than at one or two locations on each building. 

While the initial cost of an aerial could be paid by a developer, maintenance, annual testing and recertification, personnel training and replacement cost would be borne by the District and our taxpayers.  For an asset costing in excess of a million dollars to acquire and with an annual rate of inflation of 3.5-4% in the fire apparatus market, this would create a replacement liability for the Department of about $2 million by the end of the truck’s 20 year service life.

Too, neighboring districts have aerial apparatus that can be requested as mutual aid resources and arrive at about the correct time in the evolution of a call so as to be able to be utilized to best effect.  The bottom line is that we don’t believe that the cost/benefit analysis supports the acquisition of an aerial apparatus as a condition of approval for this project.

“Would the Village project require additional staffing for the Fire Department?”

This question was the subject of considerable discussion and comment in the report prepared for us by Citygate Associates (which is available to anyone at our website – go to the “Documents” page and click on ‘F-2 Squaw Valley Fire Mitigations Draft Report’ to download the entire document as a .pdf file). The short answer is yes – we need to return staffing to ‘minimum staffing of 4’ which allows us to fight fire aggressively while maintaining compliance with OSHA regulations.   The Citygate report suggests appropriate staffing increases to be implemented from there and identifies specific development/construction benchmarks that trigger those incremental changes and require the developer to fund them until tax revenues catch up.

“Does that study recommend a fire station at the west end of the Valley?”

Yes.  A station at the west end of the Valley would allow a more timely response to the peak population core during peak traffic periods and would follow industry standards for deployment of staffing.