At two workshops in one week (Aug. 31 and Sept. 3), Cambrians can learn more about fire-prevention options in their community. They can also chime in with their opinions on whether they prefer having their own stand-alone Cambria Fire Department and Cal Fire crews in town, as is the case now, or having Cal Fire perform the functions of both departments.
Currently, Cambria Fire is responsible for protecting residential properties, while Cal Fire has wildland responsibility, because Cambria is in a state responsibility area.
In the past, Cambrians have twice voted to increase the fees they pay for Cambria Fire services, to enhance those services and make sure equipment is up to standard.
Cal Fire has been managing Cambria Fire’s operations since former fire chief Mark Miller retired last month.
Rob Lewin, interim chief of Cambria Fire and county/Cal Fire chief, said in an email interview Tuesday, Aug. 18, “We will provide the ad-hoc committee with any information they ask for to make a decision about fire protection in Cambria. It is the CCSD board's decision on determining the level of service they need and can afford. Cal Fire will have to make a decision if we can provide that service. If there is a better way to provide fire protection than Cal Fire, then we would support that.”
The Cambria Community Services District, which administers the Cambria Fire Department, has a Fire Prevention Ad Hoc Committee, which consists of Muril Clift, vice president of the district’s board of directors, and Director Mike Thompson.
The ad hoc committee’s two workshops are to be held at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31, and 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. Each workshop is
expected to last about two hours. The public is encouraged to attend.
As Clift told his fellow board members July 23, the ad hoc committee hopes to learn “what people expect from their fire department … which leads into ‘how much are you willing to pay.’ ”
He said the committee has “to have a starting position,” and that has to come from townspeople.
A group of citizens opposed to having Cal Fire do it all is urging citizens to show up at the meetings and express their support of Cambria Fire.
“Keep Cambria Fire Local” offers a nine-page explanation of “why not contract with Cal Fire” at www.keepcambriafirelocal.com. A Facebook page and sign campaign are being established.
In the Aug. 18 email announcing their intentions, group organizers Bob and Daun Putney said that at a CCSD meeting the next day, CSD General Manager Jerry Gruber “will report he has directed staff to implement immediate financial reductions to the fire department in overtime and that they are not going to replace Fire Captain Steve Bitto’s position” when he retires next month after 26 years.
Bob Putney served as Cambria Fire’s chief for eight years, retiring in 2008.
Gruber told The Cambrian Monday, Aug. 17, that he was going to “allow Cal Fire to handle those staffing requirements, to see if there’s some money saving there,” but what probably would happen is that a current fire engineer would move up temporarily, with a reservist stepping up into the engineer’s post in the interim, “until the community decides what we’re going to do” about Cambria Fire.
As the group’s purpose is described, “We believe that Cal Fire is a great fire department for what the State of California created them to do: Fight wildland fires. However they are not the answer for our local community. We have a trained, capable fire department with competent, trained personnel who are more than capable to protect our community in any fire scenario.”
A qualified in-house candidate could be trained for the chief’s role by a mentor for much less than the cost of Cal Fire’s current contract, the group maintains.
“Keep Cambria Fire Local” says “Cal Fire will not leave or stop serving the Cambria and North Coast” of the county, because the agency is required by law to provide wildland fire prevention, mitigation and wildland response to all areas designated by the state as SRA, including from Harmony to the Monterey County line.