Fire protection rating improves

 

Firefighters with Engine 165
Firefighter James Stewart, left and Capt. Michael Downs were the two firefighters on duty on a recent Friday at San Andreas Fire Protection District. The district policy of always having two stipend-paid volunteers on duty helped improve the ISO fire protection rating for San Andreas.

ISO bumps district rating to a 4

Property owners could see lower insurance premiums after June 1

SAN ANDREAS – Insurance Services Office, a private firm that rates the ability of fire agencies to protect property, will soon boost the rating for much of San Andreas Fire Protection District. Effective June 1, the rating for the central part of the district will be a 4 rather than the lesser 5 rating the district has had for some years, said San Andreas Fire Chief Don Young. Young said the improved rating comes, in part, because “We have station coverage now.” At any given time, most of the district’s volunteer firefighters are at home or at jobs elsewhere. By paying a small stipend to volunteers who work 24-hour shifts at the station, the district can shave minutes off the time it takes to respond to structure fires. At one time, the district often had only one firefighter at the station. For the past several years, however, the district has always had at least two. “For safety reasons we went to two,” Young said. In 2017, the district board increased the stipends paid for station shifts. Now, firefighters get $75 for a 24-hour shift. Engineers, who are responsible to drive and operate engines, are paid $100 per 24-hour shift. That works out to just under $3.13 an hour for the firefighters and just under $4.17 an hour for the engineers. Captains get paid $125 per 24-hour shift. Still, it is a stretch for the district to pay even such modest stipends. The district has an annual budget of only about $260,000 a year and two paid regular employees – Young and an office manager. “We are struggling right now to maintain that staffing level due to economic factors,” Young said. Young also said that often volunteer firefighters leave the district to take jobs elsewhere. Insurance Services Office sells its fire protection rating information to insurance companies that then use the data to help set rates. The ratings are based on factors such as the location of fire hydrants and the flow from the hydrants, the equipment an agency has, and the agency’s staffing level and training program. The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 1 typically a well-funded city agency with stations only minutes away from all the structures it protects. A 10 rating is typically a rural location more than five miles from a fire station and without a water source adequate to fight fires. Young said that representatives of ISO visited San Andreas to review the fire district’s operation and check the fire hydrants serving the community. Young said the district’s rating is actually expressed as a 4/10, with the 4 applying only to areas within five miles of the station. The 10 applies to outlying rural areas. Fred Girard, the owner of Gerard Insurance Services in San Andreas said that the rating change might reduce fire insurance premiums by “a few dollars.” He said the biggest drop in premiums is between areas rated 10 and areas rated 9. More important, Girard said, is that the improved rating shows “We’ve got a great fire department.” The ISO rating only considers the district’s ability to protect property. In fact, firefighters in the district respond much more frequently to medical emergencies than to fires. In January, they responded to 77 calls for medical service and five structure fires. Firefighters say that the same two-person staffing that improves safety during their initial attack on a structure fire also enhances their ability to serve people with medical emergencies. Often, firefighters are the first on the scene of a medical emergency and are charged with stabilizing patients until ambulance personnel can get them to a hospital.

Firefighters thank the community for another successful crab feed!

SAFPD Crab Feed tickets go on sale

 Volunteers serve at fundraising dinner

San Andreas Fire Protection District shoulder patch
The members of the San Andreas Firefighters Association who wear this patch on their uniforms are mostly unpaid volunteers. They not only volunteer to fight fires and aid accident victims, but also host fund raising events such as the upcoming Crab Feed.

Admission to popular annual event still only $40

SAN ANDREAS – Tickets are now on sale for the 9th annual San Andreas Firefighters Association Crab Feed to be held Feb. 3 in the San Andreas Town Hall, 24 Church Hill Road, San Andreas.

The doors open at 6 p.m. for a social hour followed by dinner at 7 p.m. Tickets to the all-you-can-eat event are $40 per person. To purchase tickets, call 209-754-4693.

Those who want tickets are advised to call soon. The event usually sells out and seating is limited.

For the ninth year, San Andreas Fire Chief Don Young will preside in the kitchen. Volunteer firefighters and other supporters of the district will serve the food.

During the dinner, a number of prizes donated by area businesses will be raffled to guests. There will also be a door prize. A no-host bar is provided.

Money raised goes to purchase needed equipment, including safety gear worn by firefighters. Tax revenue is not sufficient to maintain the level of service the district provides. The San Andreas district makes up the difference thanks to thousands of hours of volunteer time spent responding to fires, accidents and other service calls, repairing equipment and hosting fundraising events.

San Andreas Fire Protection District Engine 165
Engine 165 rolls up Highway 49 as part of the San Andreas Fire Protection District contingent at the San Andreas Pioneer Day Parade held in September. Such equipment might make it seem that the district is well funded. In fact, this engine costs almost three times as much as the district’s approximately $260,000 in annual tax revenue. It was purchased only thanks to a large federal grant. The San Andreas Firefighters Association hosts fundraisers including a Feb. 3 Crab Feed to purchase equipment including essential protective gear for firefighters.

 

To learn more about the district or to volunteer go to SanAndreasFire.org

SAFPD 2017 Awards

San Andreas Fire Protection District Chief Don Young, left, presents the Firefighter of the Year Award to Capt. Brian Santos during an awards dinner on Saturday in the San Andreas Town Hall.
San Andreas Fire Protection District Chief Don Young, left, presents the Firefighter of the Year Award to Capt. Brian Santos during an awards dinner on Saturday in the San Andreas Town Hall.

San Andreas Fire Protection District honors firefighters

Awards presented during a dinner on Dec. 9

SAN ANDREAS – San Andreas Fire Protection District on Saturday honored district personnel for their service.

The top awards of the night went to two seasoned captains who hold down full time jobs outside the fire service yet still somehow find the time to respond dozens of times a year – sometimes dozens of times a month – to emergency calls in their community.

San Andreas Fire Chief Don Young singled out Capt. Brian Santos and Capt. Susan Young for their unpaid service to the district. Santos works full time as an ambulance paramedic in Stockton. Young works for the U.S. Postal Service. Yet both of them don their fire gear and respond when needed, often in the middle of the night when they would otherwise be sleeping.

Chief Young noted that neither Santos nor Capt. Young, who is his wife, are paid for their work. In addition to responding to service calls, Capt. Young is also a president of the San Andreas Firefighters Association. In that capacity, she leads efforts to raise money to buy safety gear and other equipment.

Chief Young also honored two young firefighters who are paid stipends when they work 24-hour shifts at the San Andreas fire station. Young presented this year’s Golden Axe Awards to brothers Kevin and Keith Hall. Both are engineers and hold the rank of lieutenant in the district.

Kevin was the first to join the district in 2014. Keith followed in 2015. The Halls’ rapid rise in the department is particularly remarkable because it comes at the same time that their family was forced to relocate to Manteca because their Calaveras County home was destroyed in the 2015 Butte Fire.

The Halls sometimes serve on strike teams that travel to assist with major wildfires. That happened in October when Kevin Hall was part of a strike team that battled the firestorms that devastated a number of locations including Santa Rosa and Napa. While he was gone, his brother helped cover his shifts at the home station in San Andreas.

The other major award of the night went to Capt. Mike Downs. He received the Firefighters Choice Award. The award recipient is chosen by a vote of the members of the San Andreas Firefighters Association.

Downs formerly worked as a firefighter for the Nevada Division of Forestry and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. He currently serves regular shifts as the duty officer who oversees an engine crew. He served with the strike team that battled the firestorms in October. Not long after returning from that service, he led the initial attack to put out a house fire in San Andreas on Oct. 26.

The awards were presented during a dinner Dec. 9 in the San Andreas Town Hall. More than 130 firefighters and family members were on hand to witness the ceremony.

Other honorees were:

  • Capt. Matt Berlier, who receive the Leadership Award.
  • Firefighters James Stewart and Caleb Steffes, recognized as Rookies of the Year.
  • Firefighter Kirk Overley, who received the John Wayne/True Grit Award.
  • Firefighter Caleb Wickham received the Most Improved Award.

 

Cold and Flue (fire) Season

Calaveras County Fire Chiefs Association president declares cold and flue season

Federal officials report that heating causes more than 45,000 structure fires annually

SAN ANDREAS – Calaveras County Fire Chiefs Association President Don Young on Monday declared the start of cold and flue season.
It isn’t what you think. Young, who is also the chief for San Andreas Fire Protection District, isn’t trying to replace Calaveras County Public Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita.
Young’s concern is that with colder weather, residents may be firing up their wood stoves without first clearing last year’s creosote from flue pipes. The creosote buildup, or even bird nests and debris, can ignite, starting a blaze that can damage or destroy a home.
“We have multiple calls for flue fires throughout the county,” Young said.
Cleaning the creosote buildup typically involves removing the cap on the top end of a chimney or flue and using a brush, chain or other device to knock the creosote loose inside the pipe. Then, the resulting debris can be vacuumed up where it falls lower in the flue or in the fireplace or wood stove.
According to federal statistics, home heating – especially wood stoves – is one of the most common causes of structure fires, responsible for an average of more than 45,000 home fires per year in the United States. While the fire is sometimes contained within the stovepipe, other times the flames spread to damage walls and roofs.
“It can be very costly,” Young said of the consequences of a flue fire.
The U.S. Fire Administration reported that from 2013 to 2015, heating fires caused more than $500 million per year in damage to U.S. homes. The average loss per fire was $7,690.
While more than half of heating fires happen in a flue or chimney, the fires can also start with other types of heaters. Heating fires most commonly start between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., according to federal statistics.

Fire damages vacant house on St. Charles Street

Engine 162 on the scene of a house fire on St. Charles Street.
Engine 162 was among the first on the scene of a fire early the morning of Oct. 26, 2017.

Water Tender 169 helped supply water to fight the fire in St. Charles Street.

San Andreas home was vacant during Oct. 26 fire

Residents had been evicted the previous day

SAN ANDREAS – No one was home when firefighters were called in the early morning Oct. 26 to extinguish a fire in a two-story residence at 211 W. St. Charles St. in Andreas. San Andreas Fire Protection District Chief Don Young was first to arrive after the fire was reported at 2:42 a.m. Young said he saw “Flame in the basement/garage area and heavy smoke in the upper floor.” Young said that moments later the first two fire engines arrived. Young said that firefighters made entry through the garage door and were able to fairly quickly knock down fire in the basement. By then, however, the fire had spread to the upper floor, interior walls and attic. Fire personnel were on scene for several hours to mop up hot spots. Young said that no one was home and, in fact, the home’s residents had been evicted the previous day. In addition to San Andreas Fire Protection District, agencies assisting with the fire were the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District, Altaville-Melones Fire Protection District, and Angels Camp Fire Department. Young said the cause of the fire is pending.

Firefighter stipend increased

San Andreas Fire Protection Engineer Kevin Hall with Engine 165.
Kevin Hall is paid only a little more than $4 an hour for a job that sometimes requires him to drive a $700,000 fire engine.

San Andreas Fire boosts firefighter stipend

Yet even paying only $3.13 per hour could eventually bankrupt district

SAN ANDREAS – The men and women who put out fires in and near San Andreas, extract injured motorists from wrecked cars on area roads and help lift ill people from the floors of San Andreas homes earn only $3.13 an hour for performing that work. And that’s more than it used to be. In August, the San Andreas Fire Protection District Board of Directors boosted the stipend paid to firefighters to $75 for a 24-hour shift. Engineers, who are responsible to drive and operate engines, are paid $100 per 24-hour shift. That works out to just under $3.13 an hour for the firefighters and just under $4.17 an hour for the engineers. Previously, both firefighters and engineers received only $50 per shift. District Chief Don Young said the district board acted to boost pay to keep San Andreas competitive with surrounding districts. Even so, few people can afford to work for so little pay. The district often trains volunteers only to lose them when they get living-wage jobs. Often those jobs are in cities elsewhere in California, making it difficult for volunteers to lend a hand back in San Andreas in their off-duty hours. “We are just not getting the numbers who want to volunteer on a fire department as we did in years past,” Young said. Decades ago, all of the volunteers serving here, as in many small volunteer districts, lived nearby. During rare emergencies, the station siren would sound and members from all over town would run to the station, Young said. Back in those days, the station was also a social hub complete with a bar. But times are very different now. Training standards are higher, the number of service calls are higher, and the bar – as well as any tolerance of intoxication on duty – is long gone. Now, the agency tends now to attract young volunteers who come to learn skills that can lead to living-wage jobs elsewhere, Young said. He said that roughly half of the 40 people on the fire department’s roster do not live within the boundaries of the district, which includes San Andreas proper as well as surrounding rural areas. “We’ve always been a training ground for the larger agencies,” Young said. Young said that volunteers who do remain in the area are sometimes unavailable for calls because they are working shifts at other fire agencies. “A lot of them have joined other departments to make up that pay differential in order to support families,” he said. Kevin Hall, 21, works as many volunteer shifts as possible for the district under its schedule. That works out to five shifts in each two-week period, yielding him pay of just $250 a week. Hall commutes from Manteca. (He used to live in Calaveras County but his parents’ home was destroyed in the Butte Fire.) Hall said it costs about $20 to put gas in his car each time he comes for a 48-hour shift. That means that just the gas eats up 10 percent of the $200 he will earn for the shift. How does he survive on $250 a week? “I am still living with my parents,” Hall said. But he is trying to chart a future. “I am trying to get on with an ambulance company now,” Hall said. Hall is also part of a career-mentoring program with the San Francisco Fire Department. That might someday result in him landing a job with San Francisco or another large agency. One upside to the low-paid work is that Hall is getting experience driving equipment that would be out of reach for such a young firefighter in the large agencies. A $640,000 federal grant recently allowed San Andreas to purchase an almost $700,000 fire engine. So Hall, who makes $4.17 an hour, is sometimes the person on call to run a machine worth more than four typical San Andreas houses. He said he values that opportunity and knows someone his age would not get that chance if he was at a big-city agency that paid living wages. “It would take years and years of experience,” he said of how such duties are assigned in places like San Francisco. Federal dollars may help with equipment purchases, but they do nothing to help pay for gas, repairs or personnel. San Andreas Fire Protection District subsists on an annual budget of about $260,000 per year that comes from local property taxes, Young said. Only two people in the agency – Young and an office manager – receive salaries. Everyone else is a volunteer. And only those volunteers who cover shifts at the station get the stipends. (Captains, who serve as duty officers when Young is not available, get $125 per shift.) Young says the future of the district is uncertain. Right now, the agency is dipping into reserves to pay the increased stipends. Directors are discussing ways to increase revenue. But it is unclear whether San Andreas voters would be willing to pay more to maintain the fire district’s operations. “There is not much chance of us continuing to do what we do now without additional funding,” Young said. Making the problem more difficult is that the district’s call volume continues to grow. Where the agency once went days without a call, now, firefighters typically respond three or four times a day. The agency set records for call volume two months in a row this summer with 112 calls in July and 118 in August, Young said. The July calls included five structure fires, nine vehicle accidents, 12 wildland fires, and 60 medical calls. The agency could cut its call volume in half and greatly reduce costs if, for example, it stopped responding to medical calls. Yet Young and other district leaders dislike that idea. And they also are reluctant to cut other services, such as assisting the local hospital when medical transport helicopters land or assisting other fire agencies when called to do so. Still, despite the difficult financial situation, Young said the recent increase in pay for firefighters was the right thing to do. “It helped our personnel greatly,” Young said. “They are making peanuts.”

Chabot retires

Assistant chief’s retirement ends an era at fire district

Robert Chabot wrote $2 million in grants for San Andreas

Assistant Chief Robert Chabot at his desk.
Assistant Chief Robert Chabot earned the nickname Grumpy.

SAN ANDREAS – When Assistant Fire Chief Robert Chabot turns in his pager on April 1, it won’t just be one man’s retirement. His departure after 20 years of service with the San Andreas Fire Protection District is also the end of an era.
“Robert has been my right hand man since I’ve been chief here,” said San Andreas Fire Chief Don Young. “We are losing a guy who has been available 365 days a year, 24/7, whenever I called on him.”
Chabot, 65, is retiring from his volunteer role as a fire commander for undisclosed personal reasons. He will continue for now with his paid role as an administrative assistant to Young. The two are the district’s only paid employees.
Chabot served 21 years in the U.S. Army, primarily with the military police. He can still easily bark out orders like a drill sergeant when necessary. “Show some respect,” he once snapped at several young department members who failed to appropriately salute the U.S. flag during a meeting.
It’s no accident that Young sometimes taps Chabot to deliver stern messages to the agency’s personnel. And it is not surprising, either, that Chabot proudly displays on his desk two mugs featuring the animated dwarf character Grumpy. It is Chabot’s nickname and, although he doesn’t have a beard, his face does resemble the dwarf’s.
“Personally, I am not a people person,” Chabot said. “But professionally, I can deal with almost anybody in a polite and professional manner.”
Chabot honed those skills long before coming to San Andreas. After graduating from the former Norte Del Rio High School in Sacramento in 1969, he attended American River Junior College. “Then I went into the military for 21 years.”
Chabot spent most of those decades with the military police. He served two tours in Germany, two tours in Korea, five stateside assignments “and deployments elsewhere I can’t tell,” he said.
Chabot left the Army in 1992. In 1996, he came to Calaveras County to work for the county government fire service that existed at the time to operate the breathing support unit. He joined San Andreas Fire Protection District in March of 1997.
“The first fire I went on was a fatality fire in Engine 164 in the house next to Treat’s (General Store),” Chabot said, referring to the grocery store in the center of town.
Chabot worked his way through the ranks and was named assistant chief in 2009. Along the way, he saw his share of horror. “I had to pull a baby out of a dashboard,” he said. He said he also once performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on two cats pulled from a burning house.
Despite all that, despite the Grumpy mugs on his desk and despite his role as the designated drill sergeant for the district, Chabot often sports a goofy smile.
“My philosophy of life is conception is a terminal disease. We don’t get out of life alive anyway, so we might as well have some fun,” he said.
Chabot said that once he’s no longer in the hot seat to get up in the middle of the night for fire calls, he plans to put a greater focus on fun. “Take walks. Read. Play games. Learn.”
Chabot leaves a fire district that is very different than the one he joined. Two decades ago, San Andreas Fire Protection District personnel responded to about 250 calls a year. Then, most of the volunteers lived in town and employers were generally forgiving if a volunteer had to leave work to respond to an emergency.
Now, the agency responds to more than 1,000 calls a year. And it is increasingly difficult to find people able and willing to undergo the lengthy training to become firefighters and then be ready on a moment’s notice to drop what they are doing to respond to emergencies.
The district does pay a $50 stipend to some firefighters to work 24-hour shifts at the station. But that is a pittance, Chabot said.
“It works out to $2.08 an hour.”
Another sign of the district’s tight finances is that no one gets any kind of pension or retirement payment after working there. Even Chabot, after his long service, won’t get a cent. Instead, he said he will subsist on his social security and his Army pension. That Army pension, Chabot notes, is based on what his salary was in 199s when he left the military.
The district’s entire annual budget is about $200,000 a year. That comes from taxes paid by district property owners. Most years, the agency can earn additional revenue when it provides engines and crews to assist the state and federal governments in fighting wildfires. In 2016, San Andreas Fire had crews out working wildfire strike teams for most of the summer.
Still, there simply isn’t enough money even to purchase all the equipment needed to protect the district. One of Chabot’s key achievements was addressing this problem.
Young said that Chabot wrote three successful applications for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That funding, about $2 million in all, purchased complete protective gear (turnouts, etc.) for agency staff, a machine to clean the gear, and self contained breathing apparatus gear and testing equipment. The funding will also purchase a brand new, not-yet-delivered fire engine.
But that equipment won’t last forever. And Chabot, watching the increasing challenge to find enough volunteers, says a day of reckoning is coming.
“The people of our district need to accept the fact that they are going to have to pay some money to get firefighters,” Chabot said. “Pay $50 per year per person. Give up one Day-O espresso per month.”
The biggest immediate impact of Chabot’s retirement, Young said, is that effective April 1, only Young and Battalion Chief Lee Rhodes will be available to be in the hot seat as commanders during major incidents.
When a fire breaks out in the middle of the night now, for example, one member of the trio is on call at any given time to get up and go. The person next in line also has to be ready in case a second major incident happens. With three commanders, Young said, it usually has been possible for each of them to get enough sleep.
Young said that the district’s lieutenants and captains often take the incident command role for relatively routine calls. Examples would be medical calls not involving an imminent risk of death. Still, he said the policy is to always have a chief monitoring the situation by radio in case a report of a dizzy spell turns out to be cardiac arrest.
Young said having a seasoned commander available is crucial to firefighter safety. The district’s 30 firefighter members are entirely volunteers and many have had relatively little experience with the most dangerous types of calls. Senior commanders are responsible to make sure that firefighters don’t take inappropriate risks, especially when no human lives are in jeopardy. “There are many times we’ve had to reel them back to keep them from getting injured,” Young said.
Young said he is working with the district’s board of directors to come up with a plan to expand the number of experienced commanders available to handle major incidents.
“This is going to be the most significant change we have gone through in 15 years,” he said.

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