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Fire district meetings lively this month

Drones, retrofits, in Sonoma Valley FD; alert tests, t-shirts and donations for KFPD

By Jay Gamel

November is a busy month at Kenwood and Sonoma Valley fire districts, with directors and chiefs keeping busy wrapping up after the Glass Fire and having units scattered all over the state.

Kenwood Fire Protection District

Directors convened at 4 p.m. on a chilly Nov. 18 at the Kenwood Firehouse to do the month’s business, which called for a mandated five-year update of district conflictof- interest policy, just a few years overdue. The policy identifies who needs to file the required forms with the County Administrator’s office, and a variety of personnel and consultants, who are covered by the county rules on conflicts of interest. Directors John Cooper and Daymon Doss have been meeting as an ad hoc committee to look into the state of employee relations in the district since it has ceased to be an all-volunteer organization and begun hiring full- and parttime professional fire personnel. A survey was sent to all 18 of the district’s staff members seeking their opinions on a range of issues.

The survey questions and results will be made public at the board’s next regular meeting on Dec. 8. If any issues surface upon seeing the results, the Board will work to resolve them. Firefighter Japen Soto was promoted to Captain and the Chief Daren Bellach is interviewing for a new Engineer to step into Soto’s current position.

Sonoma Valley Fire District

SVFD meets regularly as 6 p.m. on second Tuesdays, after the KFPD Directors meeting in Kenwood. While Kenwood’s Board meets in person, SVFD’s bigger, seven-person board, meets virtually on Zoom.

Fire Marshal Trevor Smith introduced the directors to the district’s newest fire equipment, a DJI Matrice 200 Drone V2 unmanned aircraft with regular and infrared cameras and two batteries that should provide a major boost in fire intelligence during events.

Videos of the drone in action were impressive, showing hot spots and trapped people in fiery situations. The extra batteries obtained with the craft should keep it in the air for up to 40 minutes, the battery needing replacement every 20 minutes. Six people will take pilot training to become FAA-certified to pilot the craft. Under current operating conditions, the craft must remain in sight at all times and not fly over any person. The drone was bought with a $15,000 grant from the California Fire Foundation that Smith prepared and shepherded through the process. It has been officially dubbed the Sonoma Valley Fire Unmanned Aircraft Fire Prevention & Safety Unit, but here’s hoping a better handle will be found and applied to this newest tool in the fire fighting arsenal. In more earthbound business, all seven directors agreed to pursue rehabbing the Glen Ellen fire house (#5 in the SVFD fire houses) to meet current California earthquake requirements.

“The building is 50 years old,” former GE Board President Peter van Fleet said as he presented a Structural Engineering report and recommendations from MKM Associates to the Board for information, discussion and possible action. “While it was built to code then, over time, it has drifted out of lateral force requirements.”

Chief Steve Akre settled a question of whether a new building would be better.

“I don’t think there is any way a new building could be put up on this site,” he affirmed. “But it is absolutely the best location for the firehouse serving this district.”

Van Fleet, an engineer by training, suggested that the total upgrade cost might be as low as $100,000, though the job has yet to be put out to bid. The directors agreed to move ahead with the retrofit plans and learn more at next month’s meeting.