The scrutiny of Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s commission will increase in coming weeks as the August election approaches. Two commission seats as well as Measure G, the unit or parcel fee increase, will be on the ballot. The terms of office for Commissioners Pete Capparelli and Paul Riggi expire in December.

It is a difficult decision and fortunately the district’s voters have excellent choices. Our role is to provide information so that you can assess the candidates against your values and perception of the district’s needs.

Last week, we interviewed the two incumbents, Capparelli and Riggi. This week, two of the four challengers — Paul Miglin and Mark Spehar — are interviewed on page 8. Interviews with Jerry Buchanan and Larry Donahoo will be published next week.

In addition, a Candidate’s Forum is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3 at the Nature Center.

Before that evening and during the campaign, I’d like to ask some questions as issues come before the public. For example, last week, the IFPD commission, with the exception of Commissioner Chip Schelly, wrote a letter thanking the career firefighters for their contribution to next year’s budget saving. It amounts to about $34,000.

In the letter, the four IFPD commissioners wrote, “Our firefighters are currently paid significantly less than their counterparts are paid in other departments, both near and far.”

Perhaps, I’m being ornery and obstinate, but I must have a different definition of either “less” or “department” than the commissioners. To see why I am perplexed, take a look at the following table:

IFPD U.S. Forest Service
Annual salary Annual Salary
Chief $92,400 $64,000 to $83,000
Captain $73,800 $47,800 to $62,200
Engineer $65,700
Firefighter $39,800 $31,200 to $45,300

I got IFPD monthly salary data from Commissioner Ben Killingsworth and multiplied by 12 to compute the annual level. But note that these underestimate the actual IFPD salaries. These figures do not include the annual cost-of-living allowance, which the district pays, and excludes any overtime earned on the job.

I’m not including benefits in the total income, so I don’t know if that might change the result.

Only Forest Service firefighters at the G.S. 5 level, top of the schedule, seem to make more than an Idyllwild firefighter, but IFPD’s engineers clearly make more.

The Idyllwild crews work 48-hour shifts, meaning they are on duty for 48 consecutive hours, including sleep. But that’s the insurance we require in case a fire starts between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. The Forest Service crews generally work a 40-hour week, eight or 10 hours per day.

But, it seems to me that the IFPD staff makes more than the Forest Service crews. But maybe the seven Forest Service stations on the Hill and 50 or more staff don’t constitute a department in the same way that Idyllwild’s 10 (including the chief) firefighters do.

Yes, Idyllwild provides medical service, too. Maybe that is worth $10,000 more, but the point is the commissioners statement that “Idyllwild is the lowest paid near and far.”

What’s your interpretation?

This doesn’t negate the need for Measure G (more pros and cons on that issue in the future), but it reinforces the concern that the commission doesn’t pay attention to details. This is the kind of sloppy and superficial analysis the grand jury admonished IFPD for conducting in the past.

As Conor says in his column this week, let’s share the same facts, even if we have different conclusions.


  1. I am sure that the commission was referring to full service fire departments such as Riverside Co., Hemet, etc. The Forest Service's mission is quite different, the protection of natural resources. As you pointed out, IFPD provides Advanced Life Support, the FS does not.

    In fact, there is much debate within the Forest Service about what level of response is appropriate. Some say that they should not respond to traffic collisions and medical aids and only to vegetation fires. Of course that ignores the basic concept of "closest available resource", but what do you expect from an agency that only calls their 'forestry technicians' firefighters when it is convenient for them… like when they die.

    Anyway, the point is that I am sure the commission was comparing apples to apples, not fire departments to land management agencies.