House fire on Broadway Street

Towering flames from a house fire on Broadway Street are visible from a neighboring back yard.
Towering flames from a house fire on Broadway Street are visible from a neighboring back yard. Photo by Ruth Nichols, San Andreas Fire Protection District.

San Andreas Fire personnel responded just after 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, 2020, to a fire that did major damage to a house at 179 Broadway Street. The fire sent up a column of flame visible throughout the neighborhood and threatened surrounding homes.

Two engines and crews from San Andreas Fire Protection District responded immediately and attacked the fire, preventing its spread. San Andreas Fire Chief Don Young said no one was home at the time. He said neighbors who saw the rising smoke plume called 911 to report it.

Young said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

San Andreas fire also mobilized two command units, a water tender and a breathing support unit. “At one point San Andreas Fire had 20 personnel working in some capacity,” Young said.

Other agencies that sent equipment and personnel to the incident included Calaveras Consolidated Fire District, Central Calaveras Fire and Rescue Protection District, Mokelumne Hill Fire Protection District, Altaville-Melones Fire District, and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

In addition to the house, the fire burned a vehicle, a storage shed and various items stored in the back yard. Fire crews continued to work through the night and into Wednesday to put out hotspots.

One firefighter was transported to a hospital for heat related issues.

“Everybody did an outstanding job,” Young said.

“Bryan did an outstanding job,” Young said of Capt. Bryan Santos, who served as the incident commander.

For more information, contact chief Don Young at 209-754-4693.

 

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.”

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