Lyon fire district battles to keep up service levels in face of growth

Central Lyon County Fire Protection District officials are working directly with county planning officials and Landmark Homes to hash out just how the district will be able to handle the future influx of people expected to come with the addition of 4,800 new homes in the next 30 years.

Chase Development is proposed for 2,300-acres located on the north side of Highway 50 east of Dayton, extending from the Rose Peak/Sutro area to Six-Mile Canyon road in Mark Twain. Developer Jim Bawden is set to go before the Lyon County Planning Commission Tuesday.

Fire Chief John Gillenwater said he has no reason to attend Tuesday's meeting as the county planning commission decides the fate of the zone change that could allow the new homes.

"I'm not pro- or anti-growth," Gillenwater said. "That's not my job. We don't have jurisdiction in zoning changes."

The fire district has stations at Silver City, Mound House, Mark Twain, Dayton Valley, Dayton, Stagecoach and Silver Springs.

Within the next five years, the district expects each of their stations will need some type of full-time staffing, which will mean upgrading the stations with living facilities that meet all current standards.

The only jurisdiction fire officials have in building, Gillenwater said, is to ensure development meets fire codes.

With more people moving in, Gillenwater said the district expects increased calls, more traffic controls which will produce more traffic accidents and an increase in the number of commercial structures that need fire inspections.

"We will try and address those (issues) as best we can within the parameters of our budget," Gillenwater said.

Gillenwater is working with Landmark Development to see if the company will donate equipment or apparatus as a way to handle the expected increase in calls. The district has the ability to "implement alternate methods to meet the intent of the (fire) code," he said.

Landmark built and donated the district's new main district fire station as a way to compensate for recently built residential homes in the Dayton area.

The horse-trading situation is not new, but appears to be the most assured way for the fire district to keep a basic level of service after residents defeated a 17-cent tax override in 2000.

The measure would have generated more than $525,000 in resources the fire district would have used to establish two, two-person emergency response teams at each end of their service area.

Without the boost in funding, the district depends on recruiting and maintaining volunteers. The district also depends on agreements with surrounding counties and fire agencies who can respond to calls if the need arises.

In 2001, the Central Lyon County Fire Protection District officials reported that if a house caught fire, four trained firefighters could respond within 20 minutes. If someone had a heart attack, it would typically take 15 minutes for trained personnel to arrive on scene.

Those were the average response times for the area between Silver Springs and Dayton. If the call came in on a busy day or at a time when few volunteers were available, it could take much longer.

The fire district is striving to serve the growing area even more this year as the district has seen about 26 percent more calls and has 10 fewer volunteers.

At any given time, the fire protection district has two paid personnel on duty to serve 625 square miles and more than 17,250 residents. During the week when the fire chief and battalion chief are on duty, the force doubles.

The department depends mostly on its volunteer firefighters to answer the more than 1,900 calls they expect this year. But even that core group has dwindled to 85 responders and is expected to continue declining in numbers as the community changes.

District officials are worried about attracting and keeping volunteers. Many of the new homeowners often work outside of the area, making responding locally to incidents during the day difficult.

Volunteers also face tougher training and state requirements than they did 10 years ago, making the time commitment unattractive to many people.

The billboard outside the main district fire station in Dayton advertising for new volunteers is one way the district is hoping to get needed help. Other than that, few options are available to maintain or increase service, Gillenwater said.


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