As a volunteer during the recent Mountain Fire, Sheila Zacker staffed the phones at the Idyllwild Fire Station. During her stint she observed that the facility was in need of repair. She acted on her observations by beginning a fundraising effort.
“I put this together because people in our community wanted to say thank you to our firefighters,” Zacker said. “So I saw a need and people are really rallying around it and it’s a beautiful thing that people want to say thank you to our heroes.”
The effort is aimed at upgrading the living facilities at the IFPD. Zacker’s letter (delivered via email to many residents and business owners) states: “The facility where the firefighters spend their days and nights have not been updated in years. The carpet is probably forty years old, the other floors are peeling. The beds they sleep in are from the thrift store and the TV extremely outdated.”
Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz offers, “Folks were calling and asking what they could do to help.”
Zacker is correct. The facilities are in need of repair. And while there is little doubt that Idyllwild Fire Protection District deserves both gratitude and appreciation, some have questioned whether the donation of money for this cause is really benefiting those with the most urgent need.
“What is being done for the fire victims?” asked Mary Gavney, a 25-year resident of Idyllwild. Eddie Bearden, an Idyllwild resident suggests,” In a perfect world, I think the money should go to the families, and the community should help the fire department by donating labor and supplies. It’s a matter of pride in our fire station.”IFPD also distributes a flier entitled “How We can Thank our Firefighters” which is available on the IFPD counter. The IFPD flier incorporates much of the content of the Zacker letter.
And while all of this appears to be well-intentioned, its wording has raised a plethora of questions from Town Crier readers as to the accuracy of statements made in both Zacker’s letter and the IFPD flier. Chief Reitz acknowledges the confusion and attempts to address the concerns:
TC: Confusion over two payees. Zacker’s letter asks that checks be made out to “IVFC 621 (Idyllwild Volunteer Fire Co 621).” The IFPD flier states: “To contribute to our Idyllwild Fire Protection District makeover, please make checks payable to: 1. IFPD or Idyllwild Fire Protection District with a note in the memo stating ‘Fire Dept. Remodel or ‘The Mountain Fire’ …”
CR: “That was a mistake that has since been corrected. Checks should be made payable to the IFPD.”
TC: Are the donations deductible?
CR: “According to tax codes, donations to a government entity are tax deductible.”
TC: Will the IFPD provide an accounting of the monies collected?
CR: “We are required to do so.” [Note: At the Aug. 13 meeting, the commission authorized a separate bank account for donations and gifts.]
TC: Given the language in Zacker’s letter and the IFPD flier — the Zacker letter states that “the county does not have the money to make these much-needed upgrades …” while the IFPD flier further states that the “county and district does [sic] not have the funds to make these much needed upgrades …” — this gave some of our readers the impression that the county should pay for the repairs.
CR: “Some people are saying that the county should be paying [for the repairs]. A couple of folks didn’t understand that we are not funded by the county. They have given us money for MDCs [mobile data computers] and other things.
“Generally we ask for things that they [the county] have mandated we have or emergency items.
“We don’t receive county tax dollars. We receive our own tax dollars that the county collects for us. Any monies we receive beyond that are in the form of grants or gifts.
“Sheila is new to us, but it was a misunderstanding on her part. There really shouldn’t be any money available [from the county]. We are not under county administration. That has been corrected in the letter.” [As of Tuesday, the IFPD flier distributed at the station had not been revised to reflect this change.]
TC: Do the firefighters perform minor station repairs?
CR: “Firefighters do as much of the repairs as they can. In some cases they have donated items themselves. Beds and kitchen items are some of the goods that have been donated to us’ some have been donated by the firefighters themselves.”
TC: Isn’t there a budget for station repairs and maintenance?
CR: “It’s not that much. Seventy to seventy-five percent are salaries which are below the national average of 80 percent for salaries and benefits. Because our district is small, the improvement money is easily spent. If the A/C goes out it is all part of the station repairs and maintenance budget, or we have to find the money in the budget somewhere else and move it there.”
TC: What has been the response from the community?
CR: “The response has been good; actually overwhelming. We have received monetary and goods, and services donations as well as folks and organizations that want to do a work day at the station.”
TC: Is there an end date for the fundraising or is it ongoing?
CR: “I would say it is ongoing. We haven’t talked about an end date.”
Donations so far have included $500 from Rotary Anns; $5,000 for a thermal imaging camera; and a flat-screen TV.
Category: Idyllwild News