The federal government has approved a grant totaling $9 million that will fully fund the staffing of Cal Fire Engine 631 at the Groveland Fire Station in downtown Groveland and pay for the staffing of another fire truck from the county at a location yet to be announced, Tuolumne County and Groveland Community Services. District officials said Wednesday.
The federal grant is for five years, County Administrator Tracie Riggs announced Wednesday.
Groveland Fire – a partnership between Groveland Community Services District, Tuolumne County Fire and Cal Fire – and the Tuolumne County Fire Department need more firefighters due to “prolonged response times, increased call volume growing, limited staff on equipment, a dwindling volunteer workforce and declining volunteers” that hamper Groveland Fire’s ability to meet the administration’s “two out of two” requirements Federal Occupational Safety and Health during the critical early stages of the fires, according to a county grant application.
A federal OSHA “two on two on” provision for firefighting requires that when two firefighters enter the most potentially fatal part of a fire, two firefighters must be located outside of what the OSHA calls the “atmosphere immediately dangerous to life or health”.
The five-year, $9 million grant was provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. Andy Murphy, former Deputy Chief of Tuolumne County Fire and L Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit of Cal Fire, applied to FEMA for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Staffing in 2021, on behalf of Tuolumne County Fire.
Murphy, who announced his retirement in June, could not be reached for comment.
Pete Kampa, chief executive of GCSD, was seeking more details about the grant from Groveland Fire staff. He said the grant funding announced Wednesday will also staff another Tuolumne County fire truck for five years at a location yet to be determined by the county.
Riggs said he heard about the grant approval from Marc DiTullio, deputy chief of Groveland Fire, and it was “the best news that really made my day and my week!”
DiTullio said Groveland has contracted with Cal Fire for a station in downtown Groveland, Station 78. Tuolumne County Fire has Engine 631 at Station 78, where Engine 631 personnel cohabit with the Groveland Fire Department. CSD. Cal Fire Merrell Road station is not part of the GCSD.
Current funding for Engine 631 comes from ARPA — the US federal bailout act of 2021 — and that funding expires in June 2023, DiTullio said. The $9 million in grants announced Wednesday will pay for engine staffing beyond that.
“I can’t say enough how excited I am and what this means for our community,” Riggs said in her announcement. “I am extremely proud of our fire personnel for preparing such a well-written grant application.”
Riggs also thanked U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove and his team. She said she emailed McClintock’s chief of staff, Rocky Deal, at a Columbia Fire Services public forum in late August, asking for help getting approval for the request for county grant to FEMA.
“I followed Rocky to provide additional information,” Riggs said. “They made verbal requests on our behalf, and I’m confident it was their advocacy that made this grant a reality for our county.”
Most of Tuolumne County’s jurisdictional area is identified by the State Board of Forestry as Very High Fire Hazard Severity, or High Fire Hazard Severity, the county’s grant application to the States of the FEMA.
A significant potential for death from fire exists in Tuolumne County, in part because 11.8% of the population is age 65 or older and lives alone, and many residents who need help getting move are “non-ambulatory”. FEMA States Grant application.
“Limited resources and personnel make supporting emergencies such as fires extremely difficult,” states the county’s grant application to FEMA. “Engine staffing is below average” and “proper emergency response relies heavily on a volunteer workforce that is constantly thinning out.”
When volunteers respond to fires, the use of automatic aid agreements and mutual aid agreements with cooperating agencies is always necessary to provide basic responses to the initial dispatch, county grant application to FEMA says.
When fires occur in Tuolumne County, additional resources beyond the initial response often experience significant delays, with response units coming from 30 minutes to over an hour away.
“Critical infrastructure, including but not limited to agricultural production, electricity supply and water supply for millions of people must be protected with an unrealistic amount of understaffed equipment and overworked/fatigued firefighters to handle emergencies,” states the county’s grant application to FEMA. . “The biggest threat to the county is the growing risk of devastating wildfires.”
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