Responding to five dozen more calls in 2014 than the previous year, it was a busy fire year for the Escalon Consolidated Fire Protection District.
Not all the dire predictions of a huge fire season this past summer came to fruition – thankfully so, according to Fire Chief Rick Mello – but the department still responded to 972 calls during the calendar year.
The busiest month was August, with 100 total calls and the slowest was November, with 63 calls. Medical aids accounted for 615 of the calls, there were 80 motor vehicle accidents, 54 fires and 213 miscellaneous calls.
“It was pretty much an average fire season for us,” Mello summarized. “Based on the predictions, we didn’t seem to be hit like the predictions would have led us to believe.”
Lack of rainfall, while keeping the region dry, also meant there wasn’t as much growth in weeds and brush, helping keep down the fire danger.
Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro was the lone firefighter among the Escalon crew to serve on a strike team during the summer, joining an effort in Red Bluff. He served there on a brief cover assignment, put into position for a fire response as conditions were favorable for an event.
Mello said there are differing predictions for what firefighters can expect this year as well, in terms of the summer fire season, which typically begins in early May.
“CalFire reactivated some of their seasonal personnel in February this year,” Mello said of the state agency getting a jump on having responders in place. “I have heard conflicting reports, one saying there will be significant rain in April, and I have also heard of no rain … so we’re not sure what it’s supposed to be like.”
The region has been classified as being in another year of drought and while the season-to-date rainfall for the Escalon area is a little above average for this time of year, there is very little snowpack in the mountains.
“If we get a significant amount of rain in April, it won’t do a lot for our drought but we will take what we can get,” Mello said.
Fire crews will also soon be formulating the plan for weed abatement in the area, as they prep for the warm months ahead.
“The issue you do have with reduced rain is reduced growth, that can be a positive, actually, but I think people are also just being safer and more careful about when they do burn,” Mello said of the department not seeing any significant fires during the past fire season.
A couple of acre to an acre-and-a-half fires were reported and the department had a couple of large hay fires, along with a major shop fire on Mahon last May.
Figures from 2014 show the busiest month for fires was July, with 11 and the busiest month for medical aid calls was August, with 58. A total of 12 motor vehicle accidents were reported in September. Medical aid calls accounted for 63.2 percent of the department’s responses.
January calls totaled 84, with 66 in February, 79 in March, 90 in April, 81 in May and 89 in June. The second half of the year saw 85 calls in July 2014, 100 in August, 80 in September, 77 in October, 63 in November and 78 in December.
Currently, the department has three shifts: A shift is staffed by Battalion Chief Chris Johnson with firefighters Cassidy Bohannon and Gerardo Preciado; B shift has Battalion Chief Terry Pinheiro with firefighter Ryan Burr and C shift has Battalion Chief Joe Pelot with firefighter Moe Silva. Volunteers and reserves are helping fill out the B and C shifts.
Mello said the department has applied for a federal SAFER grant, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, through the Department of Homeland Security, a grant that would fund two firefighter positions.
“We completed that application but we won’t hear likely for several months,” Mello said of turning in the required paperwork for the grant earlier this month.
He said while they await word on that, they are also looking at possibly hiring personnel along with having the volunteers and reserves pull shifts. Volunteers come from within the community; reserves are paid per diem and are required to work a certain number of shifts per month.
“We are always recruiting,” Mello added. “If anyone is interested in that, they are certainly welcome to pick up an application at the station.”