Under California Penal Code § 925, “the Grand Jury shall investigate and report on the operations, accounts, and records of the officers, departments, or functions of the County.”
The 2019-2020 Amador County Grand Jury investigated the Amador County fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS), the Amador Fire Protection Authority (AFPA), and the Measure M funding for these services.
In November 2008, the Amador County voters approved Measure M, a one-half cent increase on countywide sales tax revenue specifically to improve “Fire Protection and Emergency Response Safety” in Amador County. The purpose of the measure was to enhance fire protection by helping staff fire stations, pay salaries, provide on-going training, establish incentive programs to maintain and attract first responder personnel, contribute to the insurance program, and pay the administrative costs related to implementing these directives.
In 2003, the County, cities, and fire districts joined to form the Amador Fire Protection Authority (AFPA), with a board of directors consisting of one representative from each fire district. The board is governed by a “Joint Powers Agreement” as amended in 2010 (JPA). Their primary responsibility is to develop plans to enhance fire and emergency protection services throughout the County, and plan for the eventual consolidation of the individual fire districts and fire departments in Amador County.
The Grand Jury investigation found the AFPA was not complying with the mandates defined in the JPA. The investigation also found there was a lack of coordination and that conflicts existed between various agencies affecting the efficiency and performance of fire and emergency response services within the community.
The Grand Jury found significant lapses in communication between various agencies that fueled bitterness and acrimony which may compromise the delivery of critical services to the community. Interdepartmental conflicts have diminished employee morale and created tensions that have negatively influenced the mission of fire and emergency response to the community at large.
The organizational shortcomings within the AFPA do not allow for the successful execution of their mandate. As the population in Amador County continues to grow, it is imperative the AFPA Board of Directors provides the critical leadership mandated in the JPA and develops a process for the eventual consolidation of the fire districts and departments in Amador County. This leadership will enhance the vital service provided to our community.
In the course of this report, the Grand Jury will expand on the background for our investigation, the methodologies employed, and make recommendations for improvements. Fire protection and emergency services in the Kirkwood area are not provided by entities completely within Amador County and therefore were not a part of this investigation.
|ACFCA||Amador County Fire Chief Association|
|AFPA||Amador Fire Protection Authority|
|AFPD||Amador Fire Protection District. Provides services to the communities and surrounding areas of Amador Pines, Pioneer, Pine Grove, Pine Acres, Volcano, Martell, Drytown, Willow Springs, Fiddletown, River Pines, and the City of Plymouth.|
|AMADOR PLAN||Allows local governments to contract with CAL FIRE to provide year-round protection services throughout the “non-fire” season|
|BOS||Board of Supervisors, County of Amador|
|BROWN ACT||The Ralph M. Brown Act. Pursuant to Government Code § 54950- 54963, The Brown Act requires governing board meetings to be public, open, and noticed. The board must follow an agenda and the agenda packet must be available to the public.|
|CAD||Computer Aided Dispatch|
|CAMINO||CAL FIRE’s El Dorado Unit located in Camino CA|
|CAL FIRE||California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection|
|CFO||Chief Fire Officer|
|COVERED AREA||The AFPA’s JPA definition of all territory within the members’ boundaries|
|EMS||Emergency Medical Services|
|EMT||Emergency Medical Technician|
|IFD||Ione Fire Department|
|JFD||Jackson City Fire Department|
|JPA||Joint Powers Agreement, as amended in 2010|
|JVFPD||Jackson Valley Fire Protection District|
|LAFCO||Local Agency Formation Commission|
|LFPD||Lockwood Fire Protection District|
|MEASURE M||A one-half cent sales tax for fire protection and emergency medical response services|
|SCFPD||Sutter Creek Fire Protection District|
The intense and erratic fire behavior seen in many wildland fires make suppression extremely difficult. Many factors contribute to fire danger determinations including but not limited to topography, weather, fuel loads, and fuel moisture. Combined factors can lay the groundwork for larger, hotter, and more quickly spreading fires. This community has witnessed the devastation and destruction of wildland fires as well as how quickly and unpredictable they can spread.
Wildland fires that have had a major impact on Northern California and this region over the past five years are listed below in a sample taken from CAL FIRE’s website at https://www.fire.ca.gov/ :
|Fire Name||County||Year||Acres||Structures Destroyed||Fatalities|
|Carr||Shasta and Trinity||2018||229,651||1614||3|
|Ranch||Colusa, Glenn, Lake, and Mendocino||2018||410,203||246||1|
|Butte||Amador and Calaveras||2015||70,868||877||2|
Amador County is made up of a rural community with small towns, rural areas, as well as a National Forest and wilderness areas with rough terrain. The Butte Fire has shown this community firsthand how wildfires can quickly spread and become out of control. They destroy urban, residential, and commercial areas in addition to rural and wilderness areas.
The cost of fire protection is very high. A new fire engine can easily reach into the several hundred-thousand-dollar range. Many fire districts make used equipment available to other districts at a much lower cost. The equipment needed by a single firefighter can cost approximately $2000, and some of the equipment has a limited lifespan and must be replaced frequently.
A common issue with all districts is the availability and retention of volunteer and full-time paid firefighters. In some cases, after being trained, volunteers look for opportunities to obtain full- time paid positions and some firefighters move on to larger departments with higher pay and better benefits. Training is an ongoing expense and a continuing process for fire protection districts. Staffing concerns arise at the local level as Amador County departments and districts rely on volunteers to provide complete fire services to the community. Firefighter retention is paramount in a locale that has limited funding for training and salaries. When firefighters move on to other jurisdictions, Amador County suffers.
Having sufficient fire protection services available with adequately equipped, trained, and paid staff is challenging. The fire protection departments and districts in the County, along with state and federal resources, need to work cohesively as fire emergencies arise.
LAFCO is an acronym for the Local Agency Formation Commission. LAFCO is a state-wide regulatory agency with county-wide jurisdiction, for the purpose of encouraging the orderly and efficient provision of municipal services. LAFCO is responsible for reviewing and approving proposed jurisdictional boundary changes, incorporation of new cities, formation of new special districts, and consolidation, mergers, and dissolution of existing districts. Additionally, they determine spheres of influence for each city and district. LAFCO’s policy is to encourage orderly growth and development. LAFCO does not have direct land-use authority and may not manage or operate local agencies. LAFCO is composed of two members of the County Board of Supervisors, two members representing the Cities of Ione and Sutter Creek, and one member representing the public. The Commission has three alternates representing the County, the cities, and the public.
LAFCO establishes the boundaries of fire protection districts and departments, but they do not define the fire response maps specifying which emergency resources are dispatched to an incident.
Generally, a fire department is part of a city or county government and is funded through the city’s or county’s general fund budget, which is derived from sales, property, and other taxes. A fire district is a “special” district, usually independent of any city or county government and funded by a portion of the property taxes and a special tax assessment on properties within its district. Fire districts generally provide service to rural and unincorporated areas surrounding a city or several cities, although some provide service within city boundaries as well.
Measure M created a half-cent sales tax in Amador County for fire protection and emergency medical services (EMS) when it was passed by voters in 2008. Ordinance 1676 was established in response to the Measure passing. Measure M and Ordinance 1676 contain nearly identical limitations on how the funds can be spent. Additionally, the Ordinance contains guidance on the allocation and disbursement of funds to the districts. The sales tax represents roughly half of the funding for each of the County fire districts and departments.
Each fire department and district annually receives a base allocation of $50,000. The remaining funds are pro-rated among each entity based 50% on population and 50% on the call volume in the district's designated response area, regardless of which department responds to the call.
|District||Approximate Measure M Funds||Approximate percentage of Measure M Funds|
|City of Jackson||$590,260||18.3%|
|City of Ione||$393,159||12.2%|
|Sutter Creek FPD||$363,290||11.3%|
|Jackson Valley FPD||$280,517||8.7%|
In 2003, the Amador Fire Protection Authority (AFPA) was formed by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) with a board of directors made up of elected representatives, including Board of Supervisors and City Council members from each of the seven fire protection districts and city fire departments in the County. The AFPA is responsible for planning countywide-enhanced fire protection services. The AFPA is not to be confused with the Amador Fire Protection District (AFPD). AFPD is the largest fire protection district in the County. It was established in 1990 after approval of voters and a resolution by the Amador County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors acts as the Board of Directors for the District.
This investigation has focused on the seven fire protection districts and city departments within Amador County that make up the AFPA, which are described in the table below. Some areas of Amador County are protected by the State (CAL FIRE) and there are forested areas that are federally-protected (United States Forest Service.)
|District / Department||Area (approximate square miles)||Notes|
|Amador (AFPD)||491||85% of unincorporated areas within the County.|
Includes Amador Pines, Fiddletown, Pioneer, Pine Grove, Volcano, Martell, Drytown, Willow Springs, and River Pines. Services are contracted to provide fire protection to the City of Plymouth and the Jackson Rancheria.
|Jackson Valley (JVFPD)||72|
|Lockwood (LFPD)||22||“Amador Plan” contract with CAL FIRE. CAL FIRE provides services year-round.|
|City of Plymouth||3||Contracts for services with AFPD.|
|Sutter Creek (SCFPD)||3|
On November 2, 1993, California voters enacted Proposition 172, which established a permanent state-wide half-cent sales tax for support of local public safety functions in cities and counties. Eligible services include sheriffs, police, fire, county district attorneys, corrections, and ocean lifeguards. Government Code § 30056 contains “maintenance of effort” provisions concerning Proposition 172 funds requiring cities and counties to maintain funding levels to public safety functions that receive Proposition 172 funds. These provisions ensure Proposition 172 funds are spent on public safety services as defined.
The 2019-2020 Amador County Grand Jury’s investigation into the Amador County fire protection and emergency medical services was prompted by complaints submitted to the Grand Jury by Amador County residents which included dispatching response map changes in June 2019 that caused confusion among first responders and a concern for public safety. Complaints included concerns the AFPA may be in violation of mandates of the JPA. Since there were 29complaints regarding map changes, the Grand Jury investigated how the changes affect Measure M allocations and distribution. The investigation focused on Measure M money distribution, the new response area map changes, and functions of the AFPA.
The Grand Jury interviewed twelve individuals. The interviewees included complainants, members of the Board of Directors of the AFPA, and some chiefs from Amador County fire districts, departments, and CAL FIRE. Members of the Amador County Board of Supervisors, Amador County fire protection staff, and Amador County LAFCO were also interviewed. Follow-up questions, verification, and document requests were completed by telephone and by email.
Grand Jury members attended several AFPA and SCFPD board meetings.
The Grand Jury reviewed the following documents and sources:
The Amador Fire Protection Authority (AFPA) was created and is governed by a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). Members of the JPA are elected officials from each of the seven Amador County fire protection districts and departments. CAL FIRE is not a member of the AFPA.
The responsibility of the AFPA is “to function as the fire protection planning entity in the geographical area comprising all the Members” and to “develop consistent response plans within the Covered Area to achieve greater cost efficiency.” The JPA requires the AFPA to annually review the allocation of Measure M revenues and recommend an allocation plan to the County Board of Supervisors. Each fire district delegates a member of its governing body to serve on the AFPA Board and another member to serve as an alternate board member. Annually, the Board elects a chairperson, a vice chairperson, and a secretary. Board meetings are to be held monthly.
The JPA specifies the Board must appoint an Executive Officer who has broad powers to accomplish the AFPA goals. The JPA requires the appointed Executive Officer to develop the annual AFPA budget, resolve personnel matters, and make policy recommendations to the Board. The AFPA is also required to elect an Authority Counsel. The Amador County Treasurer acts as the AFPA Treasurer and the Amador County Auditor acts as the AFPA Auditor. AFPA functions consist of:
The AFPA is not functioning as defined in the JPA. Many of its mandated duties are not being accomplished, as follows:
JPA Article 7 lists several planning functions that include developing operational and funding strategies, enhancing fire protection strategies, consolidating the members, pursuing funding, and developing response plans and allocation plans for Measure M funds. The lack of fire protection planning and enhancement has created a lack of coordination and collaboration affecting public safety. Each fire district does its own planning. The fire chiefs meet regularly to discuss issues among themselves, such as problems with the dispatching agency and response area map changes. The fire chiefs’ group is not elected or a “public agency,” and therefore is not required to comply with the Brown Act. Notices of meetings are not publicly posted. There is no formal agenda, and minutes are not kept or posted.
Subsequent to the Grand Jury beginning this investigation, it appears the AFPA has taken steps to review what is mandated and recommended by the JPA.
The consolidation of fire protection districts has been a goal of the AFPA since its inception. Additionally, the JPA lists consolidation as one of the AFPA’s functions (JPA Section 7.1(b)): “Consolidate the existing network of Members to achieve greater efficiency and consistency.”
All LAFCO Municipal Services Reviews for the fire protection districts reviewed by the Grand Jury have made similar determinations, indicating consolidation would improve efficiency. According to the 2014 AFPD Municipal Service Review:
“Reorganization and/or consolidation of services [...] may further improve the financial ability of AFPD and other fire service providers to offer the highest level of services at the lowest possible cost to citizens. [...] Consolidation/reorganization or further functional consolidation with other fire service providers will likely offer increased opportunities for shared resources, including facilities and vehicles, as well as pooled finances to hire full time staff.”
Consolidation would eliminate duplicate resources in areas that are already well-served in overlapping boundaries. Consolidation would use combined resources and mitigate against neighboring jurisdictions competing for calls for service. For example, the Martell area already has several resources nearby, including Jackson’s fire stations, CAL FIRE-Sutter Hill, and Sutter Creek’s fire station. Additionally, there is another fire station under construction nearby. Therefore, consolidation appears to be a viable option. In theory, consolidation should decrease response times and increase resources with cost savings being an added benefit.
The 2008 Measure M that was passed by voters reads as follows:
"Measure M Amador Fire Protection and Emergency Response Safety Measure Shall Amador County enact a one-half cent sales tax for fire protection and emergency medical response services, with the proceeds allocated to local fire districts as described in Ordinance 1676 (including reallocation to reflect any changes in the number of districts), to be used for paid firefighter - emergency medical response personnel to staff existing fire stations, administrative support, and volunteer insurance, training and incentive programs?"
Measure M funds provide and enhance fire protection, and improve emergency response capabilities. Additionally, it makes up roughly one-half of the fire districts’ funding.
Measure M and Ordinance 1676 do not clearly delineate allowable uses of Measure M funds. The general opinion of those interviewed by the Grand Jury was that Measure M and Ordinance 1676 need to be amended to clarify this issue.
The various AFPA members interpret Measure M and Ordinance 1676 differently. The majority of those interviewed raised concerns about using funds in specific scenarios such as paying volunteer firefighters, purchasing equipment, or using funds for fire stations built after 2008. Many questioned whether Measure M could be amended, and if so, how.
In 2006-2007, a Mutual Aid Agreement was entered into by those who agreed to assist any fire department or district needing mutual aid without associated costs. The Agreement was signed by Amador Fire Protection District, City of Ione, City of Jackson, Jackson Valley Fire Protection District, Lockwood Fire Protection District, Sutter Creek Fire Protection District, and the State of California Forestry and Fire Protection.
The AFPD is the largest fire district in Amador County. It covers approximately 491 square miles and includes 85% of the unincorporated areas within the County. The governing Board of Directors for the AFPD is the County Board of Supervisors.
For every emergency fire and medical call for service, the closest available engine is generally dispatched in addition to a second resource within the district’s jurisdiction. Measure M funds are allocated to the district whose response area includes the dispatched location regardless of which engines are actually dispatched and respond. For example, the Martell area is in the AFPD jurisdiction, but Sutter Creek (SCFPD) and Jackson (JFD) response areas extend beyond their LAFCO district boundaries into portions of Martell. Therefore, a call for service in this Jackson response area would typically cause the closest resource (Jackson) to be dispatched and a jurisdiction resource (AFPD) to be dispatched. The Measure M funds for the call would go to Jackson because the call for service is in the Jackson response area.
In early June 2019, AFPD requested CAL FIRE Camino change the response area dispatching maps, reducing the response areas for the Ione, Jackson, and Sutter Creek districts. In turn, the reduced response area maps decreased Measure M funds for those districts. The change created a new response area. At the time, the new “Area 118” would reclaim the Martell area and fall within AFPD’s jurisdiction. CAL FIRE Camino dispatch center began using the new maps in early June at the request of AFPD. The changes were complex. CAL FIRE also implemented additional changes to include services for the Buena Vista Casino. It took several months for CAL FIRE Camino to implement the new changes in the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. Based on interviews conducted by the Grand Jury, the response area maps were altered without sufficient communication and consultation with the other fire departments and fire districts. When the changes occurred and “Area 118” was dispatched, the fire departments did not know which resource needed to respond, causing confusion among first responders.
After the cities voiced their frustration over the lack of involvement and input on the map changes, the members sought to abandon the June 2019 changes and revert to the previous response maps. In the months after the June 2019 change, the Fire Chiefs and the AFPA were initially advised by CAL FIRE that reverting to the previous maps was in progress; but subsequently, they were advised the changes had not yet been initiated. It took approximately six months before dispatching appeared to be relying on the pre-June 2019 configuration. Several Fire Chiefs believe additional changes were made in the dispatching system. They believe these additional changes were made without receiving notice or explanation of what specific changes were deployed.
An informal agreement among AFPA members to extend the Jackson and Sutter Creek response areas into the AFPD Martell jurisdiction resulted in a return to the use of the pre-June 2019 response maps. Those interviewed stated AFPA members informally agreed to extend these response areas (which could alter disbursement of Measure M funds) for three years, and AFPD would reclaim the areas thereafter.
Amador County receives fire dispatching services from CAL FIRE Camino. CAL FIRE Camino, located in El Dorado County, handles CAL FIRE dispatching for the region in addition to several other counties.
Landline 911 calls in Amador County are received by the Amador County Sheriff's Office Dispatch Center in Jackson. Cellular telephone 911 calls are received by the California Highway Patrol in Stockton and then routed to the Amador County Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center. Once calls are received by the Sheriff’s Office Dispatch Center, Amador Fire and EMS calls are then forwarded to CAL FIRE Camino Emergency Command Center and are dispatched using the CAD system. This protocol for dispatching fire and EMS calls in Amador County can add delays through its several intermediate steps. In some cases, there have been delays of a couple of minutes added within the Camino system. Those interviewed repeatedly informed the Grand Jury that, when it comes to response times, “seconds matter.”
Dispatching for Amador County’s fire districts is only a small portion of CAL FIRE Camino’s transactions and responsibilities. There is general frustration among some of the Amador fire leadership about the lack of transparency in the Camino CAD system and the inability to make changes and adjust the system to meet local needs. There is a lack of participation and attendance at informal chiefs’ meetings by CAL FIRE Camino, contributing to a lack of communication with the Amador fire leadership.
Amador County pays approximately $250,000 per year for CAL FIRE’s dispatching services. There is some interest in exploring other dispatching options, such as joining other regional systems like the new system being evaluated by El Dorado County. There are also strong opinions that the CAL FIRE Camino dispatching services should be kept in place.
Training for firefighters is an ongoing requirement that is a benefit to the public, the firefighters, and the agency. Training offered by some county fire agencies is open to other agencies within the County while other agencies do not always allow outside departments or districts to attend.
The Grand Jury was made aware of two firefighters who arrived for a class hosted by one of the local agencies and presented by the National Fire Academy. Another Fire Chief from a local agency advised the visiting firefighters they were not welcome and that they should leave. The firefighters left and did not receive the training.
Interviewees reported several instances of a Fire Chief self-dispatching on calls. Self-dispatching is when someone arrives on the scene of a call without having been officially dispatched from the call center. Generally, the senior officer at any scene takes command and firefighters take direction from a superior from another department or district. Self-dispatching disrupts the protocol for responding dispatched engines and firefighters.
Interviewees reported that, on more than one occasion, a Chief canceled an engine arriving on scene in favor of an engine from a different department that was farther away from the scene.
Interviewees reported that, in another instance, a Chief canceled an engine without first assessing the incident and confirming with paramedics whether further resources were needed. The Chief then held the door closed to prevent firefighters from entering the building.
Interviewees reported that, on one occasion, a Chief canceled the responding firefighters as they walked up to a vehicle accident scene with their medical equipment which was not already on scene.
Interviewees reported that, on another occasion, a Fire Chief self-dispatched to a call, drove the Chief's vehicle in front of the responding engine (from another department), and drove very slowly so the responding engine was delayed.
Response times are tracked by dispatch, and slower response times may cause dispatch to change resources being sent on calls.
The above scenarios are of concern for the safety of the public and they can create frustration among first responders. Additionally, some interviewees question whether the mentioned actions are carried out in an effort to direct Measure M allocations to a specific department or district.
Pursuant to California Penal Code § 933 and § 933.05, the Grand Jury requests responses from the following within 90 days:
The Presiding Judge - Amador County Superior Court
500 Argonaut Lane
Jackson, CA 95642
Amador County Grand Jury
PO Box 249
Jackson, CA 95642
Reports issued by the Grand Jury do not identify individuals interviewed. California Penal Code § 929 requires reports of the Grand Jury not contain the name of any person or facts leading to the identity of any person who provides information to the Grand Jury.