The Eastern Plumas Rural Fire Protection District (EPRFPD) has too few directors to conduct district business and has suspended all fire services since June 22.
The two remaining directors appealed to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors Aug. 1 to appoint a third director, which would give the board a quorum and the ability to make decisions.
Instead, the supervisors asked county staff to provide direction on appointing themselves as acting directors of the troubled fire district.
“This is not somethings we’re anxious to do, but we should reluctantly act in the interest of public safety,” said Board Chairman Greg Hagwood.
“This is not something we’re anxious to do, but we should reluctantly act in the interest of public safety.”Greg Hagwood, Board chairman
The motion by Tom McGowan, District 3 supervisor representing the Lake Almanor area, passed unanimously.
Angelina Sutliffe, one of the EPRFPD’s two remaining directors, argued against the action. Her board has asked “many times” for the appointment of a third fire district director, she said.
“And we are asking again so we can conduct business,” Sutliffe said via Zoom during the Aug. 1 meeting.
The struggling district has been challenged by a “lack of leadership,” County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero told the supervisors. Questions about the validity of the district have been raised over the last 10 years, she said.
Volunteers to work with the rural fire district have been declining, said Jennifer Stephenson, executive officer of Plumas County’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). An October 2022 LAFCO report also cited a lack of funding sufficient to sustain the district’s operations.
“This is not the best scenario for providing services,” Stephenson said in a telephone interview Aug. 7.
Fire districts throughout rural America are struggling, including EPRFPD. In 2020 it and neighboring districts began exploring ways to combine efforts to strengthen and improve fire protection, rescue and emergency medical services in eastern Plumas County. Their efforts will go to voters in November in ballot measures that would consolidate four of eastern Plumas County’s six current fire districts to form the Beckwourth Peak Fire Protection District.
If approved, the new district would include Beckwourth Fire Protection District, Sierra Valley Fire Protection District, Gold Mountain Community Services District and the City of Portola. The C Road Fire Department and EPRFPD opted out of the consolidation.
The Eastern Plumas Rural district, which surrounds Portola, extends west to Delleker and south toward Iron Mountain, considered joining the consolidation effort. Ultimately the directors decided not to. In June they announced they were suspending fire response operations due to a lack of volunteer firefighters.
Now the district “finds itself without the means to govern or reorganize,” Lucero told the county supervisors.
Without the participation of the EPRFPD, the proposed new Beckwourth Peak fire district boundaries form a ragged donut with a large hole in the middle.
“It’s crazy to not include the district right smack in the center of the new district,” said Jon Kennedy, Portola City manager.
Voters within the four current fire districts proposed for consolidation will decide several issues on Nov. 7. Formation of the Beckwourth Peak Fire Protection Districts requires a simple majority vote. Two-thirds of voters’ approval is needed to approve a special tax to fund the district. If both measures pass, voters will also elect a district governing board.
If the county supervisors appoint themselves as the directors of the EPRFPD they would have the power to join the proposed Beckwourth Peak district. That, said EPRFPD’s Sutliffe, is their goal.
“It seems the Board of Supervisors is pushing hard so it can make the consolidation happen,” she said.
“It seems the Board of Supervisors is pushing hard so it can make the consolidation happen.”Angelina Sutliffe, EPRFPD director
Meanwhile, fire protection in the EPRFPD will be provided by neighboring fire districts, Stephenson said, “but there is no guarantee of any service” if they are busy with other fires.
Even if the county supervisors become directors of struggling fire district, it’s likely a short-term action, Stephenson added. Continued failure to recruit district directors and fund basic operations could result in dissolving the district, she said.
No residents should be without fire protection, said Stephenson. “Fire is an essential service.”