Letters to the Editor

Rural fire districts in serious trouble

What would happen if you called 911 and nobody came? In Stanislaus County, that could happen. Many of the fire districts here are facing challenges that will likely result in service reduction. Lack of qualified personnel, money and increasing call volumes are all contributing factors.

In today's world, fewer volunteers can leave work to answer fire calls. Many volunteers do not live or work in their districts, making them unavailable. On top of calls, each volunteer is required by the state to have at least 240 hours of training annually. Meeting these requirements is difficult for a volunteer with a full-time job and family.

Lack of volunteers means districts must rely on paid personnel. Very few departments can afford the $100,000 average annual cost (salary, benefits, insurance, equipment) per paid firefighter. A full-time staffed station costs approximately $1 million to operate annually.

The costs of personnel and operations continue to increase. Taxpayers refuse to pay more. Stanislaus County is obligated to provide for public safety, yet it refuses to get involved. How many districts must shut their doors before the county gets involved?

PAT BURNS, age 17