NORTH FORK – If anyone ever doubted that a small group of committed citizens could make a huge difference, let the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary demonstrate determination in action.
When the new fire station is dedicated at the Old Mill Site on May 10, a large measure of the credit will fall on the shoulders of this group of folks on a mission, who never took their eyes off the prize, and never took “it can’t be done” for an answer.
Working together with the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, who provided nearly half-a-million dollars in funding, the County of Madera who ponied up another $400,000, and the North Fork Community Development Council (CDC) who donated the land, the Auxiliary has raised funds and awareness for a facility sorely needed in North Fork.
The nearly $1 million dollar project has been fraught with its share of set-backs, but all were overcome, and on Friday, May 10, the community is invited to celebrate the dedication of North Fork Volunteer Fire Station #11. Tours will begin at 10 a.m., with the ceremony at 11.
It’s been a long road since November of 2003, when Augie Capuchino, then the Station Chief in North Fork, called a group of interested community members together to talk about the possibility of an auxiliary to support the financial needs of the Fire Department.
A group of 17 citizens, led by founding president Don Vasconcellos, got together in January 2004, and formed the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary. They became a 501(c)3, and began raising money for small equipment and tools for the firefighters.
Over the years, the Auxiliary has purchased a host of items not provided by funding from the County, including medical bags, water tanks and generators, extraction equipment, communication and GPS devices, computers, uniforms, pole saws and a helicopter water bladder. They have also paid for EMT training, with three volunteers having completed the classes this past January.
The Auxiliary also took over the job of providing and installing reflective house number signs, which are crucial for quick identification of addresses when residents call for emergency response personnel.
Through their work with the firefighters, the Auxiliary learned that what was needed most was a safe environment in which to work. The existing fire station, located beneath the North Fork library, was far too small, constantly plagued with mold and water leakage issues, and in desperate need of repair.
So the Auxiliary decided to take on the long-term goal of a new fire station for North Fork, and began expanding their efforts to raise both funds and awareness in the community.
In addition to selling reflective house signs, the Auxiliary has held an annual Tri-tip BBQ every April, sold t-shirts and hats, has sponsored Chili Cook-offs, manned a booth at the Loggers Jamboree and the Christmas Bazaar, and sent out mailers each year inviting the community to contribute to the cause and to become members of the Auxiliary. And North Fork stepped up in a big way, not only with their donations, but in participation. The Auxiliary currently has 125 members.
Any monies raised since 2004, in excess of those needed for expenses, have been put into a capital fund for the new fire station, with strict oversight by the Auxiliary.
“Not one nickel has been spent where there hasn’t been official voting action by the Auxiliary,” says Don Vasconcellos, founding member and major driving force behind this project. “We are accountable to the community for every dollar collected over the years.”
In 2009, things began to pick up steam when the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians committed $496,000 through a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Grant, and Madera County had earmarked $400,000 toward the project. The North Fork Community Development Council (CDC) donated two-and-a-half acres on the old mill site, where they had been working for 18 years to do the necessary environment clean-up.
Sandy Chaille, president of the Auxiliary, says it only took a couple months for a Memorandum of Understanding to be developed and agreed upon between the CDC, the County and the Tribe.
“It’s amazing what can be done when all groups have a common goal,” says Chaille.
When the ground-breaking for the fire station was held on Mar. 29, 2012, over 200 people showed up to celebrate the culmination of years of work and planning, and watch as the construction phase of the project got underway.
The funds donated by the community over the years were then put to use, with the Auxiliary committing $82,401 to pay for a list of things that the construction budget would not accommodate:
-Additional paving behind the station
-Landscaping and trees
-Extension of drying rack
-Cabinets & counters in the office and in the laundry
Volunteer firefighter Jere Miller and Station #11 Captain Diann Miller have spent countless hours doing dozens of jobs at the new station, including sealing the concrete floor themselves. They have been onsite nearly every day for months ensuring that everything is ready to go for the big day.
Everyone is invited to come out on May 10 to celebrate this new facility. Join the Auxiliary, the Tribe, the CDC, Cal Fire, County officials and all your neighbors in welcoming our firefighters to their new digs. See first-hand what your donations and a whole lot of determination has accomplished.
After the dedication, the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians will be hosting a BBQ lunch at the Town Hall, with the Auxiliary providing dessert – four special cakes designed just for the occasion.
“The community has been so supportive of this effort over the years,” says Chaille. “I can’t say enough about our folks. They have been extremely generous, constant in their support, and excited and proud that we, AS COMMUNITY, have accomplished that which the naysayers thought impossible. While all of us in the Auxiliary have constantly pushed for the new fire station, Don Vasconcellos has been unwavering in his attention to this project.”
Current active members in the Auxiliary include Sandy Chaille, Barbara Colliander, Norm and Nita Burbank, Don and Barb Vasconcellos, Dave and Sue Myers, Volney Dunavan, Ginger Foust, Cindy Capuchino, Linda Gott-Maddox, Gina Clugston and Donna Wimer.