Calif. fire district uses crowdfunding for new ambulance

Officials hope the campaign launched on this week will raise $50,000 toward the cost of a new ambulance

The Press Democrat

BODEGA BAY, Calif. — The Bodega Bay Fire Protection District is entering uncharted territory with a new online crowd-funding campaign it hopes will raise $50,000 toward the cost of a new ambulance, with special incentives for the most generous donors that include the right to display one’s name or company name on the vehicle.

The campaign, launched on this week, is part of the coastal agency’s embrace of creative funding to maintain operations after the failure last spring of a tax measure that district officials hoped would prevent it from running out of money.

Firefighter/paramedic Josh Perucchi put the crowd-funding proposal together and won unanimous approval from the elected five-member board earlier this month.

“It was certainly one of those out-of-the-box ideas,” fire Chief Sean Grinnell said. “I, for one, don’t know anything about crowd-funding.”

The 60-day fund drive is aimed at raising the remaining cash needed to buy a $180,000 advanced life support ambulance that would allow the district to rotate its current, “first-out” ambulance, which is 7 years old, to back-up status. The existing, 14-year-old backup ambulance would then be sold as surplus, Grinnell said.

“It’s in line with what our approach has been — that we need to look at other ways of doing business,” said Charlie Bone, vice president of the district board. “We’re doing everything we can to continue operating, at least as well as we have been.”

The cash-strapped district centered on the fishing village of Bodega Bay has fewer than 1,000 households, most paying $524 a year toward fire and emergency medical services.

But the district provides service to a much larger coastal region and serves thousands of other nonresidents drawn each year to a spectacular coastline defined by scenic state beaches, county parks and other public venues — people for whom emergency response is subsidized by the locals.

Asked in April to pay still more — about $200 for most households — district voters refused, rejecting the tax measure by a resounding 3-to-2 margin. The measure needed a two-thirds vote to succeed.

The district had said it would need to lay off a third of its nine firefighters next year if the tax measure, aimed at generating $330,000 a year, didn’t pass.

A move by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to provide bridge funding of $70,000 so far has staved off the layoffs during the course of a two-year study to look at bigger-picture solutions for the county’s 15 volunteer fire agencies.

Between the past two years, the district also has collected nearly $90,000 in grant funding from the county through transit occupancy taxes paid at hotels and other forms of lodging toward a new ambulance. But the district has pursued a variety of alternative funding sources to ensure the ambulance purchase and to otherwise sustain operations, including soliciting voluntary donations from those who supported the Measure A tax hike, accepting proceeds from special public events held roughly monthly at Chanslor Ranch and Retreat, and a still nascent membership program though which area residents can pay an annual fee to avoid being billed for any ambulance service that might need that isn’t covered by insurance. So far, there is only one member, Grinnell said.

The Bodega Bay Firefighters Association also has contributed $10,000 toward the ambulance.

“It’s necessary” to be creative, Bone said. “We need to continue to operate, period. Part of that is we need to have equipment that works. Do we have equipment that works? Yes. But we can’t run to the end of the cliff and then drop off the cliff and then hope to get back on the cliff, you know? We’re planning. We’re trying to project into the future.”

District officials said they hope some of those who donate through Indiegogo recognize they benefit from the district’s provision of fire and medical services over a 220-square mile area, even if they live outside the district and only visit the area.

Donations of $100 earn a firefighters T-shirt. Those who contribute $1,000 will have their names on a commemorative plaque. And donations of $5,000 come with the opportunity for contributors to display their names on the side of the ambulance.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” said Perucchi, noting the goal was to avoid incurring financing costs through a loan.

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