No on Measure T – No blank check
By Brian Burns, Glen Ellen resident
The Glen Ellen Fire District had a rich history as a volunteer fire department for 72 years until June 30, 2018. Then it was gone, no fanfare; it died quietly into the night. The GEFD signed a contract with the Sonoma Valley Fire Authority to provide fire services for Glen Ellen. It was a last resort option, since the Board of Directors had failed to maintain a volunteer firefighter presence as well as a paid department in Glen Ellen.
During an emergency in many years’ past, the GEFD horn would sound. The horn would wake up everyone, even the dead. The night of October 8, 2017, the horn was silent.
So many residents were sleeping, most woken by their neighbors. The morning was eerily quiet, yet the wind howled with distant explosions and crackling. This silence was the first mistake by the Board of Directors. It cost many residents time to gather their pets and most valuable possessions.
That night, one of many fires started on Nuns Canyon Road, and marched down to the Sylvia/Bonnie Way neighborhood around midnight. Some of us, not leaving fate to our local fire departments, decided to stay back with garden hoses. Trying to figure out what to do next, I walked up to the Glen Ellen Fire Station at 2:30 a.m. and it was empty. There was no captain or board members or command center set up. No one to instruct mutual aid fire companies where to go. A Sonoma County Sheriff stood alone in front of the fire station – for security reasons?
Early in the firefight, the fire response in Glen Ellen was local volunteers on fire engines, spread thin with limited resources. Many firefighters I have since spoken to shake their heads at the chaos of the fires that night.
At 3 a.m., I went to the fire station again to see if any resources were available. Standing against the silhouette of the orange flames marching down Henno Road toward Warms Springs, were four fire companies. They stood in a “V”, waiting for instructions for perhaps a half hour or more. They were from San Francisco, but where was Sonoma Valley Fire? Glen Ellen Fire? This was 4.5 hours from the first call. These fire companies needed direction, and fast.
Resources. Before the fire, Sonoma Valley lent out our GEFD water tender to Solano County. So we had no water tender! This truck sprays 3,500 gallons of water as a fire break. In a similar fashion, The Olea Hotel had a sprinkler system on their roof and the fire went around them.
A water tender from a local construction company made two passes on a nearby property to contain the ground fire from crossing Stuart Creek. But this water tender was not associated with a fire department or any logistical command center.
One month later, Nov. 11, my son woke me up thinking there was another firestorm. My neighbor’s garage was fully engulfed in flames directly across the street from GEFD. I assisted a Sonoma firefighter along with the homeowner and we pulled the hose so the firefighter could douse the blaze.
Sonoma firefighters arrived 20 minutes later around 12:25 a.m. and finished extinguishing the flames. A fireman even yelled at me for getting in the way. We pay for substandard service. Every single minute counts. I went home to bed. I guess the old volunteerism came out that night. We need more volunteers in Glen Ellen. We need to go back to the way it was.
Glen Ellen signed a contract for fire services, and on the night most needed, Sonoma Valley Fire didn’t show up. Now the District wants us to pay to approve an assessment for additional fire services. This money would go into a general fund to be used as they see fit. A general fund does not foster accountability. They need a targeted plan like they need an exhaustive plan for wildfires. This and nothing less before the public pays for it.
Hindsight is 20/20. A few brave firefighters and locals improvised the best they could muster that harrowing night. We needed resources like our volunteer fire department. They better cared for our community than what we have now, and what we had the night of the fires. More importantly, we would have had more command for the help that came. But because the previous board failed, a series of unfortunate events were made worse.
Let the District Board of Directors draft a plan and discuss it with the community. Then come back for an assessment in the near future. Throwing money at no plan is like throwing money into the fire.
Don’t leave our town unguarded again. We need an action plan. Protect our community.
Vote NO on Measure T.
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