MADERA – The Madera County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to close two county fire stations and consolidate staff and equipment with others nearby.
Madera County Fire Station 16 in Ahwahnee will be closed, as will Station 17 in O’Neals.
Madera County Assistant Fire Chief Matt Watson told the board this morning that while “the concept of consolidation may be perceived by some as adverse, the purpose is the improvement of services for the county’s citizens by purposefully allocating budget dollars in a meaningful way.”
With the shortage of volunteers who serve as Paid Call Firefighters (PCF), many Madera County fire stations have just a handful of firefighters available and equipment sits idle as the percentage of responses drops.
PCF stations are not staffed, and firefighters have to respond from their homes or leave their jobs when they are called out, drive to the station to get geared up and man their engines or water tenders.
PCFs are not always available for a dispatch and often no one responds. However, the dispatch center has to wait 10 minutes to see if there is a response, then call out another company if not, said Watson.
Station 16 is less than a mile from the Ahwahnee Cal Fire station, which is staffed year around with funding through the State Amador program. Station 16 was dispatched to an average of 267 calls per year over the past three years (2016 to 2018), and responded to an average of 38 calls per year with an average response time of 12 minutes.
The two PCFs assigned to Station 16 will become members of Station 12 in Oakhurst, which is a Madera County station but is staffed full time by Cal Fire and supplemented by PCFs.
The closing of Station 17 in O’Neals will “not significantly affect the response time for the area as their service areas are rural in nature and their response times are similar,” Watson told the board.
Over the last three years, Station 17 equipment was dispatched to an average of 153 calls per year, responded to an average of 12 calls per year, with an average response time of 21 minutes.
The two PCFs currently assigned to Station 17 will become members of Station 10 in Yosemite Lakes Park (YLP) or Station 11 in North Fork.
“For a fire department to be effective and successfully mitigate emergency situations, it must maintain an adequate, well-trained staff of emergency service personnel to utilize the equipment and apparatus,” said Watson. “We need to focus budget dollars to areas where they will be best utilized. Since the County doesn’t have the discretionary funding to support the needs of fifteen fire stations, we need to find a way to do more with less – the goal of consolidation.”
Watson told the board that with repairs and upgrades needed at other existing stations, the operating cost savings could be used to improve those stations, “thereby ensuring a safe place for personnel to work.”
“The consolidation will also reduce the number of facilities the county will have to project replacing as several stations are nearing the end of their useful lives or are functionally obsolete,” said Chief Watson. This move will also save money as the number of vehicles needing to be replaced will decrease.
“This will correspondingly expedite the county becoming compliant with National Fire Protection Association replacement recommendations, and will also alleviate pressure from our fleet maintenance program as the reduction in our fleet will reduce workload,” said Watson. “As apparatus age they become more difficult to maintain with fewer parts available for replacement and the pumps begin to fail their annual testing.”
Watson noted that with Station 10 in YLP being the largest PCF company in the county, they can staff multiple engines and a water tender seven days a week.
“Adding a water tender and a reserve engine to Station 10 can be accomplished with the convergence of Station 17 with Station 10. This will give Station 10 PCFs the resources they need while still reducing the number of apparatus in our fleet.”
A new apparatus bay is currently being constructed at Station 10 to accommodate a third engine and a water tender. The facility is expected to go into service some time in July.
Ahwahnee Station 16 and O’Neals Station 17 will close at the end of August. The Ahwahnee property is rented and will revert back to the owner.
The apparatus bay in O’Neals, built in 2007 to accommodate larger equipment, is on Chawanakee Unified School District property and will go back the the district. The county will make a decision as to what to do with the old fire station property.
As the number of PCFs continues to decline, Madera County will likely continue to lose fire stations. Station 13 in Coarsegold was closed down in 2014, and its PCFs and equipment were assigned to Station 8 on Road 417.
Other stations that may close over the coming years include Station 14 in Bass Lake which has just two PCFs, Station 15 in Raymond also with just two PCFs, Station 18 in Cedar Valley with three PCFs, and the Chowchilla station with two PCFs.