IFPD working with radio club to expand WNKI signal

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After hearing the annual report from the Mile High Radio Club about operations of the local emergency broadcast station WNKI 1610 AM, the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission reviewed several board policies and heard reports from Chief Patrick Reitz and Battalion Chief Mark LaMont.

Bill Tell, MHRC president, discussed what the organization has accomplished since it assumed management for WNKI. One of the major steps to come are efforts to improve its signal across the Hill. MHRC assumed management of the station in 2014 after the commission approved the agreement between MHRC and IFPD.

One of the first and important steps was preparing and completing a strategic plan. A copy of the May 2015 plan was presented to the commission.

While MHRC knew a plan was needed, one of the driving factors in its preparation was citizen comments in past Community Wildfire Protection Plans. Many were concerned about extending the station’s signal further on the corridor along Highway 74 to the south and Highway 243 to the north, according to Tell.

Some of the initial steps, which MHRC has taken, include using a community technology program and using the state’s Public Utility Commission’s program for discounted phone bills for public emergency service activities.

The club has raised nearly $7,500 for new equipment. Donors have included the Idyllwild Rotary Club, Idyllwild Community Fund, American Legion Post 800, Southern California Edison, as well as MHRC itself. This has enabled MHRC to purchase a new transmitter and uninterruptible power supplies.

  “WNKI is well on its way,” said Reitz. “The Strategic Plan is being reviewed by the county’s Emergency Management Department. And there is support coming from the County Executive Office and Supervisor [Chuck] Washington’s [3rd District] office.

“Hopefully, we’ll see some money from the county to expand WNKI,” he added. “Not putting it all on our back.”

Roland Gaebert described the community education plan MHRC has formulated. One of the first steps will be a WNKI banner across North Circle Drive joining the other banners highlighting major community events.

“We want to let the community know the station exists and there are different loops for emergency and non-emergency announcements,” he stated. “WNKI needs standing in the community as a source of assistance. WNKI is information.”

During his report, Reitz discussed several bills pending in the state Legislature that could have an effect on IFPD. Among the legislative proposals he described is Assembly Bill 2727. The bill would allow firefighters to take a tax deduction of expenses they might accrue for equipment. Also, AB 1795 would permit emergency medical services agencies to transport patients to a community-care facility. Senate Bill 1416 establishes that certain inspection fees should be allocated to fire agencies, as well as the state fire marshal.

The district’s finances are positive, with more than half the fiscal year completed. In January, a surge of revenue from tax receipts, mutual-aid reimbursements and ambulance payments added nearly $475,000 to the year-to-date total of $1.5 million.

Expenses increased about $150,000, which is mostly the monthly salary and benefit costs. The result is a net positive income of about $130,000 through the end of January.

Finance Committee Chair/Commissioner Jerry Buchanan reported that the committee conducted a mid-year budget review during its January meeting, as well as reviewing the equipment replacement plan. These will be on the commission’s agenda in future meetings.

He expects the committee to meet in March in preparation for the commission’s next meeting.

IFPD will begin fire inspections this month, according to LaMont, and will add another two weeks to the initial inspection period.

The commission unanimously approved its conflict-of-interest and credit-card-usage policies.

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