2 candidates in running for Nevada County Consolidated fire board | TheUnion.com

2 candidates in running for Nevada County Consolidated fire board

Linda Chaplin
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

A former firefighter engineer and a longtime fire station neighbor are in a race on the Nov. 4 ballot for a seat on the board of Nevada County Consolidated Fire District.

Linda Chaplin, 59, who has lived behind Consolidated’s Station 86 on Banner Mountain since 1986, is opposing Spencer Garrett Jr., 59, who served 21 years on staff at Consolidated before retiring in January 2013.

The winner of the matchup will fill the two years of the unexpired term of board member Ron Pennington, who resigned earlier this year. The terms of three other seats were also expired this year, but the incumbents — David Hanson, Keith Gruenberg and Mark Bass — were all unopposed and so will be automatically reappointed without being on the ballot.

Both candidates said they have strong feelings about the direction of the district in terms of shared services with other area fire agencies and in staffing.

Consolidated had been working with Nevada City and Grass Valley on a plan for sharing the services of a single fire chief. But in August, the consolidated board decided the numbers didn’t pan out and opted instead to appoint their own leaders through internal promotions of two former division chiefs — Fire Chief Jim Turner and Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Funk.

Board members said at the time that the shared services draft plan wasn’t a fair split in terms of cost for the shared chief since Consolidated bore the greatest burden in terms of staff time and salary contribution. Board members also said their firefighters were having to shoulder the burden unfairly for making up Nevada City’s chronic short-staffing at its single fire Station 54 on Providence Mine Road.

Earlier this month, the board voted 4 to 3 to put pressure on Nevada City to increase the city’s fire department resources by giving six months’ notice that Consolidated would pull its firefighters from the city’s Station 54 — where Consolidated has been providing half the staff.

“It’s the same problem and it always comes back to money — who’s paying their fair share and who’s taking advantage of the situation,” said Garrett, who said his “insider” knowledge as a professional firefighter would be helpful in coming up with staffing solutions. “It’s always been the feeling that the county (Consolidated) is lifting more than their share of the burden.”

He said he understood the move to pull out of the Nevada City station, but, at the same time, said that it would be a “sad resolution to understaff a fire department.” Asked if he would have voted for the pullout, Garrett said it was “hard to say.”

He spent two years working at Station 54 and so he said he understood how demoralizing a pullout would be for the Nevada City firefighters.

“I would be pushing to put them on notice, but let’s not really do this,” he said.

He said Nevada City officials needed to get out of the old “volunteer mindset” because volunteers are no longer available with the new requirements that people need to have 700 hours of training before being allowed to pitch in to fight fires.

“It was the mindset of Nevada City Council that we could always go back to volunteers,” he said. “But you can’t find volunteers today; you can’t find people who are willing to give up 700 hours.”

Garrett said ideally he still would favor having a single chief — but that the two cities would have to contribute more toward the cost of the chief’s salary.

In a perfect world, he said he would like to see just one fire department for all of Nevada County. Garrett said the current group of special fire districts was an outmoded model. He said he would like to explore putting all the fire agencies as one Nevada County Fire Department, under county governance, similar to the operation of Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

“A lot of the other counties are doing this,” Garrett said.

Chaplin, who has followed Consolidated intensely for about the last eight years and attended numerous board meetings, said she would provide a “fresh perspective that would be helpful to the board.”

“I see some things that need to be done differently, and I’m willing to work on that,” she said.

Chaplin said she would have voted “no” to giving six months notice to Nevada City that Consolidated would pull its staff out of Station 54. She said she would have instead pushed for “more courtesy, more advance notice” to Nevada City officials.

“I did not agree with how this was done,” she said. “The relationship with Nevada City has been a cooperative one for quite a number of years, and there was ongoing discussion in the past year on sharing responsibilities.

“So this seemed to me to be point-blank, we’re pulling our guys out, Nevada City hasn’t been paying their fair share, we’re giving you six months,” she said. “To me, that was really pulling the rug out from under them.”

Chaplin, noting she was “not tied to the old ways of doing things,” said she felt much of the current board was entrenched.

She would support more “creativity and imagination” in staffing and budget solutions.

“I’m concerned that the board is just treading water,” Chaplin said. “A number of people have been there for a very long time; I feel like they’re giving us a fire district that was from the 1990s.

“I’d like to see us move into the 21st century,” she said.

Chaplin said she understood the background history that has led to the current situation of overlapping priorities. For example, there was city-county crossover in the past, when Nevada City firefighters once covered the former Gold Flat Fire Department territory of the county. Similarly, the county’s Station 84 on Coyote Street in Nevada City once covered the former 49ers Fire Department territory, she said.

“I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the history of Consolidated,” Chaplin said. “I have a good idea of how things have led up to where they are today.

“That gives me some depth,” she said. “I’m not just taking everything at face value.”

Chaplin, the mother of three grown daughters, said she would like to see more women involved in Consolidated and that she would provide needed diversity on the board.

“I feel I have something to contribute,” she said. “Even though I’m not a career firefighter, to me the board should be recruiting people with a wide variety of experience.”

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email kbrenner@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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