El Medio firefighters put in last day at Oroville station – Chico Enterprise-Record


OROVILLE — Friday was about as common a day as the firefighters of El Medio Fire Protection District had.

There was an early call out. Coming back, they responded to a person having a stroke. The station’s television was on by late morning and men kicked back in recliners, listening to the scanner.

Except Friday was the station’s last day of operation. At 8 a.m. Saturday, the doors at 3515 Myers St. were to be be permanently locked.

Firefighters on duty Friday called it a sad day for them and for the community.

“You don’t get in this business for the money,” said firefighter Jeff Gamble on Friday.

But it was money putting them out of business.

The station, a tax-funded special district, was to be closed because a tax measure floated on the November ballot failed. While 50 percent of those who voted supported it, the measure needed 66.6 percent in favor to pass.

The area will be covered by Oroville Fire Department and Cal Fire-Butte County.

Gamble, who lives in Yuba City, has been at the fire station for 14 years. Brenden Perez has been there 11, and Otutoa Afu 2 years.

At some point over the course of an hour they all called it a “sad” day, not only because it was their last day of work, but because of community impact.

Not having the El Medio station means a longer response time for Oroville Fire and Cal Fire-Butte County, which will divide the 2-square mile neighborhood in South Oroville.

“If it’s a stroke,” Gamble said, “the longer the time without help the more damage is done.”

Like other stations, El Medio’s six firefighters respond to fires, medical calls and even crimes.

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Tonya Ellsworth, who lives around the corner from the fire station, said she won’t feel as safe.

“It’s really terrible that this is happening,” she said Friday.

Parcel tax

While it was the community that didn’t support the parcel tax measure, the firefighters blame the board of directors for not doing enough to make the station’s precarious financial position more clear to the community.

“I just think the community wasn’t aware. They don’t even come to board meetings,” Gamble said.

But the small station with its two engines and water tender, are a huge part of the community, which responds to fundraising dinners and gives donations.

In turn, the station’s large engine bay is often the scene for events for the area. This week the Oroville Rescue Mission hosted a Christmas gift giveaway at the station, and for years it was the scene of a Mother’s Day ham dinner that the firefighters put on themselves.

Gamble told Friday of an autistic 12-year-old who loves everything fire department. The station had to close its bay doors at night because of theft and vagrants, but had it open this week, which enticed the boy to stop the family car and come in to take pictures of the engines.

The station is by no means shiny and polished. Furniture was donated by family members and friends. The firefighters raised the money to install new flooring, which they did themselves.

Gamble was among those who questioned how could a special district — created by the voters — be dissolved without voter approval.

He thought previous tax measures supporting the station might have been erased by the board in favor of Measure D, which basically would have put an annual parcel tax from $50 to $200 on all taxable real property in the district.

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“The public just thought ‘Another tax. No’,” Gamble said.

Measure D would have meant about $154,000 annually, according to board clerk Vanessa Burdette, who said she worries about the longer emergency response time and what it will mean to the community. She said on Tuesday that El Medio responds to about 1,700 to 2,000 calls a year, covering about 6,000 residents, which grew after the Camp Fire.

Among the problems facing the district, she said, is minimum wage increases, state mandates, equipment that needs maintenance and repair, along with overtime costs because vacancies weren’t able to be filled and overtime had to be paid.

“Overtime really eats away the budget,” she said Tuesday.

In a video posted on Facebook by Oroville News Live of the Dec. 9 board meeting, the board explained to a group of citizens that came out to fight for the station there was little that could be done.

Board members described the situation that was debt-ridden, having borrowed from the county, with old equipment in need of maintenance and repairs, and rising costs.

Asked for a comment this week, board Chair Dan Tiedemann referred this reporter to the station captain, who was not available.

Firefighters

Perez, who also lives in Yuba City, said he’ll be looking for a job, maybe with an ambulance company. Gamble, who said the firefighters make a little more than minimum wage, may have a tough time finding a job as a firefighter.

“Most of us have a second job because you can’t live on a firefighter’s wage.”

Perez noted that El Medio can fill in when other stations get called out, and its absence means that other stations will be spread thinner.

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