At its Nov. 27 meeting, the Idyllwild Fire Commission approved a pilot project to use water tenders from Messina Water Service as resources available nationally for major fires. Last week, Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and Dan Messina discussed the venture in more detail with the Town Crier.

Idyllwild Fire will place the tenders on a national resource list. If the Forest Service or another fire agency needed extra tenders to help during a major fire, they could request the IFPD equipment.

Messina Water Service’s pilot contract with IFPD specifies the company would be responsible for all operational costs including insurance and training of personnel. IFPD would receive 15 percent of the gross payment to Messina.

“It won’t cost [IFPD] anything,” Messina emphasized, and Reitz concurred, “It should pay for itself.”

If the pilot is successful, Reitz hopes to expand the contract to include other firefighting resources, such as bulldozers and possibly hand crews. But that decision will be made when the pilot project with Messina is over in about six months, he added.

The equipment could be requested for fires anywhere in the U.S., not just California, Reitz said. The water source will depend upon the fire‘s location, Messina said.

And it’s not just water tenders that Messina owns. The company, which has been in the family for nearly 35 years, also has a communications trailer with satellite access and voice-over Internet capability that is now available to agencies lacking this sophisticated technology.

“It was just completed this year,” said Messina.

The idea has been germinating with Messina for a couple of years, he said. He initially discussed it with former fire chiefs Norm Walker and Michael Sherman. Once Reitz arrived and settled, Messina approached him with the idea.

“It’s something I’ve done in Oregon,” Reitz said. The availability of offering resources that might be on the fire line for several weeks could be a valuable recruiting tool, according to Reitz.

“I hope it takes off, we might be able to hire seasonal [firefighters],” Reitz said. Other departments use the additional funding to support their capital investments or hire additional seasonal staff, Reitz said.

“I’m trying to get relief and breathing room to lessen the burden on the taxpayers,” he explained.

“We have great hope that something can be done,” Messina added. “I can supply what [IFPD] can’t.”

J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].