Calif. firefighters lobby for $100M in mutual aid funding at capitol
Fire Chief Chris Tubbs is representing the county in a statewide coalition calling for funds that would help pre-position resources in high risk areas
By Adrian Rodriguez
The Marin Independent Journal
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Marin firefighters are joining Sen. Mike McGuire in Sacramento this week to lobby for more funding to expand the mutual aid firefighting system and to upgrade emergency dispatch.
Southern Marin fire Chief Chris Tubbs, president of the Marin Fire Chiefs Association, is representing the county in a statewide coalition calling for $100 million that would help local governments pre-position firefighting resources in high risk areas to cut off wildfires from spreading.
"The reality of fire in the state of California these days -- with extreme weather conditions and changes in our climate -- we need to be more proactive," Tubbs said. "It's one of the most effective tools for preventing fires from quickly spreading out of control."
More than 35,600 mutual aid requests were made in 2017, of which 11,000 went unfilled, he said.
In the first 12 hours of the devastating North Bay firestorm last year, 300 fire engines were requested to help battle the blaze and only 130 arrived, McGuire added.
"California has the gold standard for firefighting mutual aid, but it's become beyond clear this system is severely strained and it's putting lives at risk," McGuire said.
California's Mutual Aid System was created in 1950 to allow local fire agencies come to the aid of their neighbors when disasters or threats were too large for local resources to handle. The system is managed by the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
While the mutual aid system is cited as the national model, it is designed as a reactive response to disasters.
Tiburon fire Chief Richard Pearce, who will also head to Sacramento Wednesday, said that following a year of some of the most dangerous and deadly fires and floods in California, fire officials "must look at improved approaches to how we prepare and respond to these devastating all-hazard events.
"This includes enhanced response through pre-positioning of personnel and equipment, streamlining and updating the antiquated mutual aid system and the provision of adequate funding in preparation of these events," he said.
Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber will not be attending the Wednesday conference, but said that he supports the proposal.
"We're going to support anything that can better enhance public safety and the community," he said. "We've seen the value of pre-positioning and staffing."
About $87 million would reimburse local governments for the cost to pre-position fire resources in high-risk areas ahead of extreme weather events, allowing strike teams to attack fires. Strike teams include five engines, 20 firefighters and a team leader. Mobilizing strike teams costs about $50,000 a day. About $13 million would pay for improved communications technology.
Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed another $25 million effective July 1 for the purchase of 106 fire engines, including $1.4 million for fleet maintenance and staff.
McGuire said a bipartisan coalition has also submitted a budget request letter for $84 million to purchase 31 CalFire engines and hire crews to staff the rigs.
Copyright 2018 The Marin Independent Journal