The push to fully staff fire stations in Madera County

In North Fork, where the Fork Fire has forced over 1,000 people to evacuate, there are two volunteers assigned to Fire Station 11.

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Saturday, September 10, 2022
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In North Fork, where the Fork Fire has forced more than 1,000 people to evacuate, there are two volunteers assigned to Fire Station 11.

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- As fire danger grows, so does concern through the county of Madera.

More than 700 fire personnel from across the state are battling the Fork Fire burning in the North Fork area.

RELATED: Fork Fire: Crews reach 20% containment, acreage at 819

While the state response is typical for wildland fires, many living near the fire-lines say they want a fully staffed fire station closer to home for quicker response times.

CAL FIRE officials say they have made strides to bolster fire services for the area.

"Historically, we were just one person at our stations, and over the past five years, we've been increasing that. All of the companies in Madera County, if it's not just a paid station, it's a joint paid and volunteer station," said CAL FIRE Deputy Chief of Operation Chris Trindade.

There are two volunteers assigned to Station 11 in North Fork.

"So they'll respond from home, pick up the apparatus and go to that. For supplement, no matter the type of call in North Fork, a CAL FIRE engine is going to respond," said Trindade.

In 2017, 56% of voters shot down Measure L, a 1% sales tax increase spearheaded by Madera County Supervisor District 5 Tom Wheeler. Most of the money would have gone toward the County Fire Department to improve staffing, stations, and resources. A percentage would have also gone to the Madera County Sheriff's Office. Opponents said it would cost residents too much money.

"It would fully fund all-volunteer fire stations with full-time firemen 24/7. At that time, we hadn't bought a new fire truck for over 10 years, we didn't have the money to do it," said Wheeler.

Wheeler said the county has improvised by securing dollars from the already existing sales tax for public safety.

"The board pledged a million dollars a year to buy two fire trucks per year, we've done that for five years."

Given the growth of tourism and the county itself, the budget has followed suit. Wheeler said 70% of discretionary dollars - almost $68 million - goes to public safety, including fire, sheriff's, and the jail.

"The ideal goal would be all of the counties to get paid staff, it's just expensive," said Trindade.

Madera County is working towards that goal - there's just no time frame on when that can happen.

Wheeler said he hopes to see Measure L back on the ballot in two years.