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Ophir fire station to call it quits Jan. 1

Last ditch effort to secure FEMA funding to keep station manned
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - FEMA could come to Placer County Fire’s rescue in an attempt to keep the Ophir station on Wise Road open. Placer County Fire is seeking a $1.2 million grant from a Federal Emergency Management Agency fund that helps pay for adequate staffing and emergency response at fire halls. Without the grant, Ophir’s Station 182 is slated to shut down Jan. 1, Emergency Services Assistant Director Rui Cunha told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. A June 5 ballot measure in the North Auburn-Ophir Fire coverage area failed, leaving Placer County Fire with the task of making up a projected $570,000 annual shortfall through cuts. Losses in property-tax revenue are being blamed for the lack of funding. “Cal Fire, in cooperation with county staff, determined the only appropriate solution would be to close the Ophir station,” Cunha said. “It will close on or about Jan. 1.” Cunha said that the district will be making $285,000 in reduced expenditures this fiscal year to allow the Ophir station to stay open through fire season. In 2013-14, that figure is expected to double, reflecting a full year of costs. But the station would stay open if the FEMA grant is approved, giving the fire district two years reprieve. Cunha said an answer from FEMA is expected by the end of the month. On Tuesday, supervisors agreed to send a letter supporting the application for the $1.2 million grant, which would be paid through mid-2015. Placer Fire Chief Brad Harris said the grant is offered nationwide but that the county’s application has already cleared initial hurdles that put it in the group being seriously considered for funding. The decision to move ahead on the Jan. 1 closure date wasn’t taken lightly, Harris and Cunha told supervisors. In a report, Cunha said that closure of any station has an impact on service levels and has the added potential to cause steep increases in insurance rates to people within the fire service area. The June ballot measure asked property owners to pay $40 a parcel to keep the Ophir fire station in operation. “We were obviously faced with a difficult but painful decision,” Harris said. “It came down to one conclusion. To meet the shortfall, we need to close the Ophir station.” Cunha said outside the meeting that the impact on fire service was comparable to a domino effect, with other stations filling the void – but then needing staffing for emergencies in their own areas. As part of the FEMA grant requirements, Placer County Fire is to assure the federal agency that no layoffs will occur. Cunha said that Placer County Fire is also making a call for volunteers that could man the Ophir station, as well as Dry Creek, Paige, Sheridan, Thermolands, Fowler and Dutch Flat locations. With reduced property-tax revenues, which are the primary funding source for fire service, it has been very difficult to maintain current service levels, Cunha said. Community volunteers are more important today than they have been in the past. “Volunteering can make the difference between keeping a fire station open or having to close it,” Cunha said.