Fire chiefs: Newcastle coverage not obligatory if not mutual

Department set to be moved to warehouse
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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If the Newcastle Fire Department cannot sustain itself financially, surrounding fire districts are not obligated to provide supplemental coverage in the event of an emergency, according to a letter sent by the Western Placer County Fire Chiefs Association.

The letter, dated Sept. 17, was sent to Yvonne Lewis, chair of the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors and provided to the Journal on Tuesday. Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes, Office of Emergency Services Director Rui Cunha, Newcastle Fire Department Battalion Chief Jay Love and the rest of the Placer County Fire Chiefs Association membership also received the letter.

It states that under the Cooperative Fire Services Response Agreement, agencies will provide each other with aid if they are available as long as those agencies are willing to provide reciprocal aid.

Ian Gow, president of the Western Placer County Fire Chiefs Association and Meadow Vista fire chief, said if Newcastle's fire department were to cease to exist due to financial instability or other complications, so would the guarantee that other fire protection districts would respond to fires in Newcastle.

"I have been told that there is a perception in some areas of Newcastle where people may think that if the fire department wasn't there, other departments would automatically pick up those emergency calls," Gow said. "(The agreement) does not obligate another district to financially or logistically support another community that loses its fire department."

Lewis said she has explained during public meetings that other districts do not have to guarantee fire protection if the Newcastle Fire Department could not support itself.

"We have been trying to clarify that for months," she said.

Gow said that it would ultimately fall on the Newcastle fire board to negotiate with city councils and other fire districts to determine if coverage could be secured for the community through other departments.

"But I could see them asking ‘why are we supporting Newcastle when we are getting nothing in return' if there was no fire department there," Gow said.

Auburn Fire Chief Mark D'Ambrogi said that he would be concerned with sending a fire engine that is paid for by the residents of Auburn to a fire in Newcastle.

"In Placer County the fire agencies agreed to help each other the best we can, but we're not providing these services for free. It's kind of like ‘I'll help you because you help me,'" D'Ambrogi said. "I think taxpayers would get upset if I sent a fire engine to Newcastle and then we had a fire in Auburn and there was no one to respond."

Though the Cooperative Fire Services Response Agreement does not require fire protection services to be provided to a district that cannot provide reciprocal services, Gow said he cannot imagine a lack of response to a fire in Newcastle if the call came in.

"The point is that other local jurisdictions are not obligated and shouldn't be expected to financially support the emergency service needs of another community, but there is no question that any fire department in Placer County, whether it be the cities, special districts or Cal Fire, we will all come if we're called," Gow said.

In the meantime, the Newcastle Fire Protection District Board of Directors decided to temporarily move its firehouse to a warehouse next to the Harvest Ridge Charter School, where it currently stores some equipment.

The district is moving its fire department in response to a report by a structural engineer on its 90-year-old firehouse and the threat of a yellow tag by Placer County, which would only allow firefighters to enter the building once to remove equipment and not reenter. The firehouse can currently only be entered by firefighters and they have to stay out during the night under an order by the county.

Board Vice Chairman Bob Stearns said on Tuesday he is developing a timeline to lease a modular home to house the firefighters while the equipment would be kept in the nearby warehouse. Stearns could not provide any details pertaining to how much the modular will be to lease or when the firefighters will be able to move from the current firehouse to their temporary home.

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.