The San Bernardino County Fire Station in Big River has lost its full-time firefighters and been changed to a ‘paid call’ system.
Station 17, which houses a Type I engine company, a Type IV engine and a water tender, will now rely solely on part-time firefighters who will respond when available. According to the Department website, the station serves as the Battalion Headquarters for the California side of the Colorado River.
A spokesperson for the department says the decision, which went into effect last Saturday, is the result of some hard budgetary decisions and is part of a wider strategy to deal with the impact of the bad economy on essential services. She said she hopes the station may be staffed full-time again when the economy recovers enough to do so.
Department Deputy Fire Chief Dan Odom told Parker Live that the department was notified of its tightened budget by the Board of Supervisors only last week. “We apologize for how quickly this happened. We want to recruit paid call firefighters in the area as soon as possible,” he added.
In the meantime, the concern of some residents and visitors is that their lives and property may be at greater risk. One observer asked who would respond to accidents on Highway 62 between Parker and Desert Center.
The SBC Fire Department spokesperson said that paid call firefighters are be paged in response to incidents, and they would respond when available. If no firefighters are available at Station 17 in Big River, then firefighters would respond from the closest full-time stations.
The department also has mutual aid agreements with fire departments on the Arizona side, which are now the closest full-time fire stations to Big River and the resorts up and down the river. Odom said his division chief had reached out to local departments to inform them of the change and ask for their aid when necessary.
CRIT Fire Chief Terrilynn Little confirmed that the departments have a mutual aid agreement. But she added that she couldn’t comment on what kinds of incidents they were committed to, or whether their commitment would extend beyond Big River (a CRIT community). Odom said he believed CRIT Fire would respond further along Highway 62 in addition to Big River.
Buckskin Fire Chief Chris Chambers said he wasn’t sure that CRIT Fire would be able to respond beyond Big River without the approval of the CRIT Executive Council, and that Parker Fire Department may be able to respond. Chambers added that his department was blindsided by the move. “This all happened very quickly,” he said. “They told us they intended to go through CRIT. I asked them if they were aware that it is a different dispatch, and they said yes. Bottom line is, if Central Dispatch [in La Paz County] doesn’t get [the call], we won’t get it.”
Odom said he had been told Buckskin Fire would only respond to calls within their jurisdiction. But Chambers says his department responded to three calls in the past week from the California side of the river.
“But either way, our taxpayers come first,” Chambers added. “Even mutual aid may not work for them quickly if they have an incident at the same time we do.”
Chambers said he had heard there would be a meeting of residents in Big River that would deal with the issue soon. Meantime, the San Bernardino County Fire Department’s response will be from paid call firefighters and responders from further afield.
According to the department website, “Paid call firefighters (PCFs) respond as needed on a part time basis to all types of emergencies. They are alerted by a text-pager system. PCFs train with their local engine companies in their districts. They also participate in regional training sessions and multi-company drills as arranged by their Battalion Chief.”
California-side residents who have an emergency will most likely see an Arizona-side agency first, either CRIT (who will be dispatched by San Bernardino County) or by calling La Paz County Central Dispatch at 1(888) 818-4911.