GEFD – Setting the record straight
By Peter Van Fleet, GEFD Board President
In the Nov. 1 issue of the Kenwood Press, a guest editorial by Brian Burns urged a no vote on Measure T, the Glen Ellen Fire District’s proposed parcel tax. As President of the Glen Ellen Fire District’s Board of Directors, I believe a response to Mr. Burn’s editorial is in order.
In his editorial Mr. Burns bemoaned the transition from a volunteer department to our current 24-hour-a-day staffing plan and attributed the lack of volunteers to the District Board of Directors. Some department history is appropriate here. In the early 1980s the district hired its first firefighter, thus ending its all-volunteer status. In following years the district added another full-time firefighter and a number of part-time firefighter employees. The full- and part-time firefighters provided station coverage Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the time period in which it is most difficult to rely on volunteers. During the balance of the week and on weekends emergency response was provided by district volunteers. As the years passed, the number of district volunteers began to decline. The decline in volunteers is not unique to Glen Ellen and is a common occurrence throughout the county. In Glen Ellen there are two primary causes for the decline in volunteers. We are becoming older as a community. The increase in cost of living, particularly in housing, has made it difficult for young adults (those who typically form the core of volunteers) to live in Glen Ellen, and the increase in the time commitment for training to becoming a volunteer has discouraged many potential candidates. To attribute the lack of volunteers to the District Board of Directors is, in my experience, simply wrong. All of your board members volunteer their time for the simple reason that they care about their community. The board members who were also volunteer firefighters served a cumulative total of almost 100 years in Glen Ellen.
In 2014 the question of the ability to sustain a credible emergency response with volunteers was becoming apparent and the board began formulating plans to provide an alternate emergency response. As a part of the plan, a contact was made with the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority (SVFRA). The SVFRA had been recently formed by agreement between the City of Sonoma and the Valley of the Moon Fire District and the Glen Ellen Board desired to learn if there was a way in which SVFRA could be of aid in Glen Ellen. After two years of discussions, a contract for emergency services was signed. The contract provides for 24-hour-a-day fire station staffing at a cost that the district could not afford on its own. Paramedics are included in almost all medical emergencies. Response times have dropped dramatically for the simple reason that firefighters staffing a station can respond faster than volunteers who must drive to the station before they can respond.
Mr. Burns cited two instances in which he implied that the response to emergencies in Glen Ellen was deficient. He asked the rhetorical question “Where was Sonoma Valley?” I can answer that. During the October 2017 firestorm Sonoma Valley sent 13 firefighting apparatus to Glen Ellen and an additional eight units that were used to aid in the effort to warn and evacuate residents. This was accomplished by a department that typically staffs four engines on a daily basis. They were able to perform this because off-duty staff, part-time employees, trainees and volunteers all came to help. Sonoma Valley chief officers were an integral part of the Cal Fire Incident Management Structure for the full duration of the fire. Sonoma Valley and Glen Ellen retirees established a support base at Glen Ellen’s station.
In the Nov. 11 garage fire cited by Mr. Burns, the first fire truck was on scene in less than three minutes. The initial structure fire response of three engines, an ambulance and a Battalion Chief were all on scene within 12 minutes. An additional engine from Kenwood was also on scene and a fourth Sonoma Valley engine, dispatched later from the Sonoma Station arrived 18 minutes after the initial call came in.
We can all be proud of what our fire department is and what it has done in making Glen Ellen safe.
We are gratified at the community support that Measure T received. At the same time, we are aware that 30 percent of district voters did not support the measure. I would like to assure all district residents that your Board of Directors will continue to act responsibly with the tax monies allocated to it and that the board will carefully examine and analyze its needs before any tax is imposed and that the well being of the community of Glen Ellen will always be at the forefront of our plans.
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