Prioritize Chico’s fire department

Did the Camp Fire not teach city leaders about the importance of this arm of public safety?

The city of Chico is in the position of having taken in more revenues than it spent during the past fiscal year. Between budgeting conservatively and a big bump in taxable sales and transient occupancy taxes (TOT) in the wake of the Camp Fire, the coffers are flush heading into 2020.

The increase makes sense. For the better part of 2019, Chico served as home base for personnel employed at various disaster recovery agencies and organizations. It also became a temporary home to tens of thousands of people displaced by the blaze, 15,000-20,000 of whom are estimated to have settled here permanently. All of those stays at hotels/motels and Airbnbs/VRBOs generated an above-predicted amount of TOT money for the city as well. Their retail purchases were another stream of revenue.

As reported this week (see page 9), the city’s budget discussions begin publicly in March. However, as has been the case in previous years, plans likely are in the works behind the scenes. Our question: Will city management once again focus mainly on the police department?

After over a year of seeing our Ridge neighbors grapple firsthand with the aftermath of a natural disaster, including the exodus of the majority of its population, we believe that our fire department has not been adequately prioritized.

The city’s fire chief has done what he can within the budget constraints for the department, including using some savings toward staffing, but his creative bookkeeping simply isn’t enough for the department to meet the recommendations of the Standards of Response Coverage Plan, an independent report that calls for minimum daily staffing of 17 firefighters.

Thing is, that report predates the Camp Fire. Given that Chico’s population has grown by more than 20 percent since Nov. 8, 2018, there’s no doubt this critical public safety division is understaffed.

Ensuring adequate funding for the fire department is especially important with all of the development happening in Chico, particularly on the north and east sides of town, including the area adjacent to the wildland-urban interface. The Camp Fire torched at least one home in Stilson Canyon. It came scarily close to neighborhoods within city limits. What stopped it? Backfires by firefighting crews. Let’s remember that and resolve to support this critical arm of public safety.