I would like to tell the story of the West Point Fire Service given our pending ballot measure on fire funding. If we don’t fully understand the benefits of our local fire service, we could fail to support it at this critical time. Its very existence is at stake.
A serious fire on Main Street in 1865 resulted in area merchants forming the West Point Fire Company that had a fire station, hose, ladders and buckets. This worked very well until the 1930s when two serious fires on Main Street could not be controlled and did serious damage.
This was a time of the Depression, so no steps were taken for improvement. In 1942, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) set up a summer station at West Point that was part of the west coast defense plan if the Japanese invaded California, and to this day, it plays an important role in protecting the community, but only in the summer season.
In the mid-1950s, local merchants again supported by local mill workers formed what we know today as the West Point Fire Department. A property tax measure was passed to pay for the station, fire trucks and supplies, but the community had enough volunteers at that time to staff the engine. Many local families were important supporters such as McKim, Carlton, Rose, Carson, Faulstich, Turner, Cauvan, Brickman, Murray, Bartlett, Fox, Mason, Pool, Bellomy, Miller, Bryan, Snead, Landreath and Garcia, to name just a few that were key to its success.
In the early years, a couple of fire calls per month was the norm, but starting in the 1980s, the community changed with more retired people. Calls for medical help became more frequent. An all-medical response team was formed, but it would struggle given that it relied on volunteers only and the call frequency kept going up.
By the early 2000s, the staffing issue became critical. This was the most difficult time in the district’s history, but two individuals stepped up to manage the transition of the department from all-volunteer to a combination of volunteer and professional fire/medical staff.
Jim Carroll, a long-time local senior officer with Cal Fire and Bill Fullerton from the Murphys fire service brought years of professional fire service experience to the table. Because of the number of calls, we set a minimum standard of staffing one fire engine at all times, so no medical or fire call would go unanswered.
We did not have the financial resources to accomplish this without more community support, so starting in 2007, a benefit assessment was put in place that would later become a fire tax that we see on our county tax bill each year.
So, what did we get as a community for this additional funding? The answer is a trained crew on one engine that was 100% reliable without exception. This was a huge game changer for the community. All of that tax measure goes to this one goal only and finding that source of funds inadequate today is the financial crisis we face.
The professional staff consists of two officers who respond to calls and make sure the training is performed and equipment is always ready. The engine is staffed with one engineer and two firefighters, which is the absolute minimum for safe operation.
The next arm of the fire service is the Community Emergency Response team. Traffic control, hydration and medical checks on staff, and communication support are some of the critical services provided by this all-volunteer arm of our fire service. The Hernandez family deserves the gratitude of the whole community for their leadership and unselfish support that we all benefit from.
Another key, all volunteer support arm of the fire service is the West Point/Willseyville Fire Association. They hold the most wonderful dinners like you see during the Lumberjack days, with all the proceeds going to outfit the fire engine and especially our medical and rescue gear.
When we go to a heart attack or stroke incident, we have the very best supplies to deal with that because of this group. It also provides chaplain services to the community. The Oliver family provide key leadership to this group of all-volunteers and again I can’t overstate the importance this arm of the medical/fire service. Our health and pocketbooks benefit from the sacrifices these people make to benefit our community.
The West Point Medical/Fire Service is a mostly volunteer effort with a core response component that requires us to decide if are we going to stand up for its continued existence or not. One final point: if you get the coronavirus, we will absolutely be there for you.
Kirk Smith is on the board of directors of the West Point Medical/Fire Service