Mark Spehar. Photo: J.P. Crumrine
Editor’s note: The Town Crier is interviewing each of the six candidates for the Idyllwild Fire Protection District commission. Interviews with incumbent Commissioners Pete Capparelli and Paul Riggi appeared in the July 14 issue. The series of interviews will conclude next week with Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo. Ballots will be mailed to voters and will be due back to the Registrar of Voters’ office by Aug. 30.

What are IFPD’s priorities for the next year and next five years?
They need to keep the good employees they have. That means paying reasonable salaries without bankrupting the district or going too deep into the public’s pockets. They won’t get quality people without paying reasonable wages.

The cost of living on the mountain is not as high as in Los Angeles County, but the comparison is to other small districts. And a three-person engine crew is now standard.

How can you help achieve these priorities?
I can help because I’ve worked for so many different departments and seen these problems and various successful and unsuccessful solutions. With Riverside County Fire, I’ve been stationed at five different departments and seen different ways of operating and achieving results.

Are the district’s finances resolved? What is the need for Measure G?
I don’t think the district has resolved them. It will be a big priority for me to learn more about the finances and fix them. The choices are tough here and all over. The last thing I’d want to do is make cuts in staffing.

Measure G is needed to maintain what we have because the tax base is declining, which is a financial problem in other areas, too. We don’t want to go backward on fire protection.

Are there operational priorities?
More clean-cut staffing is needed, i.e., a minimum and maximum level per day. It seems to vary too much now, but this is easily resolved with a few minor changes.

I think a big priority is having more transparency. I’ve worked for fire departments for years — you pay my salary and you should know what’s going on in any department.

For the most part, I think they’re trying to change from the past.

What about getting more inspections completed?
Inspections are a big priority, especially in certain areas. Some areas need to be targeted more than others. But they should try to get more done than in the past, even if it means starting in April after the last snow melts.

What about the latest grand jury report? Will IFPD do the study?
I’m not sure how to separate the costs for local emergency medical services from fire. A local ambulance service is the way to go and better than the alternative of AMR [American Medical Response, the private ambulance service in Riverside County].

It costs a lot of money for a small district. The costs definitely need to be looked at. A true comparison, whether professional or hand-figured out, needs to be apples-to-apples, which it wasn’t in the past.

Why did the paid-call cadre virtually disappear?
It was a combination of factors. As a former substitute and volunteer at IFPD, it took a tremendous amount of time to take the necessary courses to maintain the certifications. And, it is costly. But, I see both sides.

There are new constraints. Fire departments are going to a lot of structure. Now volunteers need to meet those standards for fitness and training.

I have a lot to offer having lived in the community so long. I know the community and members and know how things work in Idyllwild and outside. I also know the responsibility for fire and how ambulance service works. I want to make the community better. It’s a great place to live. I have the feel for a small town fire department and its culture.