Consolidated Fire can show the way. Huh?

Straining to keep up.

Straining to keep up.

Something good may actually result from the long-running dysfunctional drama known as the Nevada County Consolidated Fire District, and may prompt other fire districts in the county to take similar action.

When the district’s new fire chief quit after three months on the job, Chairman Warren Knox got approval from the rest of the board to form an ad hoc committee to start discussions about consolidating operations with other districts.

Knox’s action was prompted by the reality facing the district. Thanks to cavalier management of Consolidated’s meager resources, the district is projecting a deficit of $860,000 by the 2018-19 fiscal year. That includes a new chief at $100,000 a year to manage 12–that’s right, 12–firefighters.

“We need to work together to reduce costs at the highest level and not at the lowest,” Knox said.

Consolidated plans to talk with the Penn Valley Fire Protection District, whose current chief will retire at the end of next June, and has talked with Grass Valley and Nevada City in the past about sharing a chief. Each currently has an interim chief.

Actually, every fire department in the western county–all nine of them–are candidates for consolidation. Grass Valley is the largest with 15 full-time employees, and every district in the county relies on paid call and volunteer firefighters to fill out their thin ranks.

Taxpayers don’t seem to be in the mood to spend more on firefighting. Consolidated asked for what it thought it could get–$52 a parcel–in the last election, and is unlikely to get more money from taxpayers anytime soon. Higgins Fire lost the most recent vote to increase taxes, and the profligate spending at Consolidated will make it even more difficult to raise taxes the next time.

Meanwhile, we live in one of the most heavily forested areas in the state, and are governed by a Board of Supervisors that doesn’t have the political will to pass and enforce reasonable vegetation restrictions on private land. The next big fire could make the 49er Fire look like a marshmallow roast.

We can reduce that risk and spend money more efficiently by consolidating our many small fire districts. Something good may yet come from Consolidated’s comedy of errors.

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