Cambria voters to decide whether to keep three full-time firefighters

Posted at 11:15 AM, Apr 23, 2018

Nestled within pine trees and sitting along the north coast of San Luis Obispo County is the quaint town of Cambria. Approximately 6,400 people live in the seaside town but the traffic from tourism surpasses the day-to-day population. 

The Cambria Fire Department responds to all calls within the district. Right now, four firefighters are assigned to a shift, but that could change.

For the last two years, money from the SAFER Grant, which was funded by the Department of Homeland Security through FEMA, has allowed the department to bring staffing levels up to four crew members per shift. Since that grant money has run out, the Cambria Community Services District Board has agreed to cover the costs up until June 30, according to CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber. 

A parcel tax, known as Measure A-18, which would tax Cambria property owners, is on the June ballot. If voters vote in favor of it, three firefighters will stay, but if not, three will go, according to Cambria Fire Department Captain John Gibson.

"What that means to the community is that when we’re responding to emergencies, our efficiency level drops off, whether it’s structure firefighting, performing a rescue, ocean rescue, cliffside rescue, medical aids," Gibson said. 

He also says it will impact the efficiency of other tasks like building inspections, hydrant maintenance, and weed abatement. 

A-18 will need a 2/3 vote to pass and if it does, it will impact the property owners of some 6,000 parcels of land within the community. 

"It’s for funding three additional firefighters for the Cambria Community Services Fire Department," Gruber said. 

This is the breakdown of what Cambria property owners would be facing if they vote to enact the tax: A $62.15 per year tax that breaks down to .17 cents per day. Collectively, it will pay for three full-time firefighters, which will come out to $375,025.

Gibson says the department has mutual aid with CAL FIRE Station 10, also in Cambria. However, according to CAL FIRE San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Scott Jalbert, that engine isn’t always available to assist. 

"Our CAL FIRE station in the north part of the area is responsible for fire protection, emergency services for the state and for the county all the way just north of the county line all the way into just about the Cayucos area," Jalbert said. 

Gibson says the department also has mutual aid agreements with the Cayucos Fire Department, Morro Bay Fire Department, Paso Robles Fire Department, and Templeton Fire Department, which would all take at least 20 minutes to respond to an incident in Cambria. 

Locals, like Michael Calderwood, are divided on the issue. 

"We all want to support and give our emergency services folks what they need to be successful and safe but then people have got to worry about feeding their families and doing the things they need to do to keep body and soul together," Calderwood said. 

Terry Konczak, a property owner, says he supports the tax if it means having a fully staffed department. 

"If we were, you know, undermanned, I think there’s all kinds of problems with that," Konczak said. 

The decision to keep the Cambria Fire Department staffed at four firefighters per shift is ultimately up to the citizens. 

If the measure does not pass, three firefighters will be laid off by June 30.

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Cambria could lose three of its full-time firefighters