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Federal Grant Funds Allow Placer County Fire to Keep Ophir Station Open

February 06, 2013

Firefighters at Station 182 in Ophir greeted the New Year by responding to a vehicle fire off of Garden Bar Road west of Auburn.

They were called out several more times during the first week of 2013. Two were for structure fires and three for medical emergencies. The rest of January followed the same pattern: a variety of calls, including as many as four medical emergencies on a single day.

Chairman Jim Holmes of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, center, gets an update from 
Fire Chief Brad Harris, at left, and Deputy Chief Randy Smith of CAL FIRE on the status of Station 182 
in the Ophir area recently.

Chairman Jim Holmes of the Placer County Board of Supervisors, center, gets an update from
Fire Chief Brad Harris, at left, and Deputy Chief Randy Smith of CAL FIRE on the status of Station 182
in the Ophir area recently. The station was slated to close Jan. 1, but remains open thanks to a two-year,
$1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Chairman Holmes represents the
Ophir area on the board. Harris is chief of CAL FIRE’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit and serves as the
Placer County Fire Warden and chief of the Placer County Fire system.

The workload was not unusual, but the circumstances were.

Last year, Placer County Fire reluctantly made a decision to close Station 182 effective Jan.1 for budget reasons. The station remains open today thanks to a two-year, $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I am very pleased to see Station 182 remain open,” said Supervisor Jim Holmes, the Ophir area’s representative on the Board of Supervisors. “Residents who live in the area understand how critical it is to keep that station open, fully staffed and ready to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice. Closing Station 182 would have two significant impacts: increased response times by Placer County Fire in the Ophir area and more requests for mutual aid assistance from neighboring fire agencies.”

Supervisor Holmes joined the board in 2005 after serving for 16 years on the board of directors of the Placer Consolidated Fire Protection District, the fire agency that served the North Auburn-Ophir area until it merged with Placer County Fire in 2006.

Placer County Fire is staffed by CAL FIRE under a contract with the county. Volunteer firefighters also help staff some Placer County Fire stations.

“The FEMA grant couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Randy Smith, Deputy Chief, Operations for CAL FIRE’s Nevada-Yuba-Placer Unit. “The grant funding will allow us to maintain existing service levels in the North Auburn-Ophir service area while we continue working toward long-term solutions to the area’s budget needs.”

Last year’s decision to close Station 182 was prompted by the need to reduce costs to offset a revenue shortfall created by reduced property tax revenue the last several years. Fire agencies throughout California have faced similar challenges because of the nation’s economic slowdown.

The decision to close the Ophir station was made after the June 5, 2012 primary ballot, when voters in the North Auburn-Ophir area chose to reject a special tax measure that included an annual cost-of-living increase. Placer County placed Measure D on the ballot so voters could determine whether they wanted to sustain existing fire service levels in their community. The measure would have raised about $570,000 in additional revenue per year for the area’s fire services.

Following the rejection of Measure D, in a last-ditch effort to maintain service, Placer County Fire applied for the $1.2 million grant in a bid for funding to keep the Ophir station open for the maximum allowable two years. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last September to send a letter to FEMA supporting the grant application.

FEMA created the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program to help fire departments and volunteer firefighter organizations increase the number of trained frontline firefighters in their communities.

The North Auburn-Ophir area is served by three fire stations: a North Auburn station at 11645 Atwood Road, the Ophir station at 9305 Wise Road and a Long Star station at 6150 Grass Valley Highway. The Atwood station is staffed full time by four firefighters, Ophir has full-time staffing of two firefighters and Lone Star is unstaffed.

The Atwood station responds to about 2,000 calls per year, making it the busiest fire station in the unincorporated area of Placer County.

The county has eight community-funded Community Service Area Zones of Benefit in areas served by Placer County Fire. The system ensures monies collected from residents stay within the defined zones and only pay for fire service.

In December 2011, the Board of Supervisors reviewed two studies that analyzed fire service funding challenges facing the two county service areas hit hardest by property tax reductions: North Auburn-Ophir and Dry Creek.

At the time, Placer County Fire had operating and capital-replacement reserves of about $1.16 million in the North Auburn-Ophir area, but annual operating deficits threatened to exhaust the reserves by the latter half of 2013 if nothing was done.

In the Dry Creek area, Placer County Fire is using contingency reserves to eliminate projected operating deficits through the 2013-14 fiscal year and will reassess the area’s funding outlook when the county prepares its 2014-15 budget.