Fire Proof

Firefighter John Baldwin suits up in gear at North County Fire Protection District’s Station No. 2 in Prunedale. Without a new funding source, stations may close some days.

The North County Fire Protection District is one the busiest in Monterey County, covering 125 square miles and serving more than 42,000 people. But the district operates light, with only two firefighters per engine instead of the three or four most surrounding agencies have. Last year, the district received 3,005 calls, 90 percent of which involved collisions or medical emergencies.

District Chief Joel Mendoza says the issue with having two firefighters is safety. If, for example, they respond to a fire – like the one that happened April 12 in Prunedale when a shed exploded and a person inside suffered burns – the first two firefighters to arrive at the scene would focus on the victim first before tackling the fire. If there were four firefighters, the crew would normally split and tackle both matters at the same time.

If the district loses one more firefighter, it would trigger readjustments: The most drastic one could be closing one its stations, but Mendoza says most likely they would “brown out” a station by closing two or three days a week, resulting in a doubling of their three – to eight-minute response times.

“The number of people that we have responding to emergencies now is inadequate,” Mendoza says.

Now the district is turning to the community, asking for additional resources via a Prop. 218 benefit assessment to raise property taxes. A single family home’s yearly rate would be $97.91, while commercial and industrial areas would pay $283.38 per acre.

The ballots will be mailed out on April 28 and they are due back the day of the district’s board meeting on June 15. If more than 50 percent of the voters say yes, the proposition will pass and be used to fund the fire district’s services, equipment and facilities.

The district last turned to voters for funding in 2018 with a ballot initiative, Measure T; although it got a majority of votes, 56 percent, it didn’t pass because it needed a two-thirds majority. (Prop. 218 assessments require at least 50-percent support from property owners in the district.)

As a result of Measure T’s failure, the district in 2019 reduced its force, going from 31 firefighters to 22 and rotating the chief’s responsibilities between three division chiefs.

For years, their main revenue source was the Moss Landing power plant, but it has decreased in the past two decades. In the early 2000s, the district operated with an average of $6.5 million annual revenue. In 2020, it was under $6 million.

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