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Feds come to rescue of Ophir firehouse in the nick of time

$1.2 million funding will be enough to keep firehall staffed for next two years
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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FEMA has come to the rescue of Placer County Fire’s Ophir station on Wise Road. Placer Fire Chief Brad Harris said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved a $1.2 million grant that will kick in starting in December and prevent the planned closure Jan. 1 of the station. The $1.2 million is the full amount being sought by Placer Fire and the county Board of Supervisors for a fund that helps pay for adequate staffing and emergency response at firehalls. In making the announcement of funding approval at Tuesday’s board meeting, Harris said that while the funding is a positive step, work still needs to be done to keep the fire station open beyond 2014. “We’re able to extend coverage for the next two years until we can come up with a budget solution to keep it open permanently,” Harris said. To make the funding official, the Board of Supervisors are expected to formally accept the $1.2 million grant at its Tahoe meeting Oct. 23. Supervisor Jim Holmes, whose district takes in the Ophir fire-protection area, said that leaving Ophir empty would put a strain on surrounding fire systems like Newcastle, which typically provide mutual-aid firefighters and equipment to “backfill” stations when others are called to fires. Ophir does the same when Newcastle firefighters are called out, he said. The grant comes four months after the June defeat of a ballot measure that asked property owners to pay $40 a parcel to keep the Ophir fire station in operation. Losses in property tax revenue are being blamed for a funding shortfall that was forcing the Ophir closure. Rui Cunha, Emergency services assistant director, said after Tuesday’s announcement that the county is working to staff fire stations with more volunteers at Ophir and other areas as a means to provide better fire protection. It’s possible that the question of a parcel fee could come up again on a future election ballot, he said. In the meantime, Placer Fire was fortunate in securing a nationwide grant that was being competitively sought by several other counties and districts, he said. “And we won’t be able to do this twice,” Cunha said.