Financial matters and a discussion of the Cranston Fire were the two dominant topics of the Sept. 26, Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s commission meeting.
The commissioners gave their approval to the final fiscal year 2018-19 budget.
“There is no change in the total from the [preliminary] budget. But we modified some line items,” said Chief Patrick Reitz.
The approved budget anticipates about $2.3 million in revenue, which is nearly $40,000 more than the past fiscal year. Expenditures are projected to decline about $35,000 from FY 2017-18 to slightly less than $2.3 million. Consequently, revenue is expected to exceed expenses by about $75,000.
Commissioner Jerry Buchanan strongly suggested the department have a specific budget account for computer technology and equipment. Buchanan argued that software and hardware were old and becoming obsolete. They function slowly and those delays take time from staff to wait, he said.
While there are higher priorities, the information technology equipment is now a vital part of every business. Buchanan acknowledged that Reitz and Assistant Chief Mark LaMont agreed about its value.
However, they argued that computer equipment can be purchased using the Equipment account. Buchanan felt that didn’t acknowledge its priority, which will make it difficult to track from year to year.
Reitz urged the commission to forego any specific adjustment in the first half of the fiscal year.
“Crews and response are our first priority for funding. In the first quarter [of the fiscal year], I’m fiscally conservative,” he responded. “Leave the funding in the Equipment account. I’m ready to spend that money and hesitant this time of year.”
The department does have a plan and Reitz will present some changes during the mid-year review in late winter, he promised.
Buchanan agreed to wait. Director Larry Donahoo expressed his support for ensuring that the IT gets improved.
“I agree with Jerry. And I relate it to my business. We were dreadfully behind and paying overtime,” he stated.
The commission unanimously approved the final budget.
Reitz and LaMont also discussed aspects of the Cranston Fire. Reitz compared it to the Holy Fire, where there were few fuel-reduction or fire breaks in place to slow or redirect the fire.
“It’s incredible how much the fuel reduction projects worked,” LaMont noted, who was active on both fires. “There is no way one can’t give them credit [in helping with the Cranston Fire].”
Another variable they discussed, which helped in the battle with the Cranston Fire, was the presence of almost all the firefighters — Idyllwild, Riverside County and U.S. Forest Service — who work on the Hill and know its terrain and fire behavior.
Reitz noted that just days before and then after the Cranston Fire, local resources were being called for assistance on other fires throughout the state.
“We were fortunate our local resources were all here. It was team effort,” he stressed.
LaMont reported that he has already submitted reimbursement requests from mutual aid totaling $450,000, excluding the department’s costs during the Cranston Fire. After the first quarter of 2017, when the department had been regularly responding to aid calls, the cost was $291,000.
The number of incidents to which the department has responded jumped considerably in the first two months — July and August — of this FY. In FY 2018-19, IFPD has responded to 194 incidents, of which nearly 75 percent (149) have been medical emergencies. During July and August 2017, the crews went on 140 incidents, of which 96, about two-thirds, were medical.
This year the increase of 54 incidents in two months is the result of 53 medical emergencies. This year, the number of false-alarm responses has already been 13, nearly twice the seven responses last year.