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Listening

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Sometimes we let our experience and expertise blind us a bit and forget that other folks may not have the knowledge and understanding of a subject, a process, or a discipline that is vital to success. This thought has been tugging at me over the last few weeks, as I attended several different community meetings. The constants I observed from the back of the room: ethical leadership, active and inclusive dialog, and respect for all and from all, even during difficult discussions.

A New Look and Feel

As newly elected and returning CCSD Directors gather to begin their work, the tone of the board and the community feels somehow different. There’s a sense of new beginnings, and everyone seems to be looking to lighten the tensions that had been ever-present over the past few years.

Continuing changes on the Administrative side has some staff members playing out of position. The acting General Manager, with support from an experienced consultant, has kept the operation moving ahead.

Refining Teamwork

As the new team finds its way towards effective collaboration, members will become more familiar with each other’s style of communication. Experience tells us that the fundamentals of good communication require both speaking and listening. More so, it requires active listening and awareness of how others are hearing what you are saying. Adjustments to cadence, language and most importantly, gaining acknowledgment that things are clearly understood. Question. Summarize. Restate. Read the room, read the dais.

Embedded Practices

As new citizens join the expanded standing committees, thoughtful attention to respectful dialog should be a guiding principle for all members. Real collaboration can yield positive results for our community. We need to be rooting for the people who have stepped into these committee roles.

Paying Attention (poorly)

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to lead an engagement that would put a series of sophisticated, intelligent production mail systems into Korea ePost. My role, as Project Leader, was to work with the US and Korean teams to define technical and business requirements, compile all the appropriate costing and pricing information, and build a Statement of Work that would set the specifics of the project. We initially worked in the U.S., and, when the framework of the project was robust, we moved the activity from the U.S. to Korea.

ho+mc

H.O. Lee and some guy

Our dealer in Seoul, H. O. Lee, had spent years building the relationships that made this project a reality. The Korean-based team consisted of engineers and project support people with backgrounds in Software, Systems, Data Management, and Operations. Most were Korean, some were Chinese, and all spoke some English. I had a high degree of confidence that we would work well together.

White Shirts and Bad Ties

I flew to Seoul for a week of intense review and refinement of the documentation that would guide the project and serve as the governance model for the engagement.

We powered through Day One, reviewing each section of the SOW. Day Two was more of the same. I was feeling great! On Day Three, a slightly apologetic H. O. Lee pulled me aside and said, in his soft sing-song voice: “Mike, we appreciate very much you coming to Seoul to teach us about the software and the inkjet printing and the file-based processing. Mike, we study English for years in school. But Mike, you talk so fast!!!! Please, SLOW DOWN!!!”

OK then… back to Page One…

Missed The Mark

scan

I didn’t read the room very well.

I didn’t do a good job of recognizing a significant problem with my style. My fellow team members hesitated to make me aware of the problem, which added to the stress they were feeling. H.O. Lee recognized the issues and, as a good leader should, brought it to my attention in a way that helped me to correct my approach.

We recovered from my failure to execute a basic responsibility, and, after several months of hard work, we completed our installation.

Use What We Learn

I carry this, and other hard lessons forward and try to not repeat past communication mistakes. I try to listen more closely. I ask more questions and then play the answers back to make sure that what I heard is what was said. Most importantly, I watch others closely to ensure that they are absorbing and understanding what is being discussed. These actions help everyone contribute to the discussion and make useful, informed decisions and take the steps that will deliver successful outcomes.

Then I go ahead and make all new mistakes!

You know, that sweatshirt isn’t going to keep you dry.

Words of wisdom from a local beer slinger.

Thanksgiving

 Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.  

James Lane Allen

Cambria is home to more character than one town should rightfully have. Wherever you look, an organization is raising funds or doing projects that add to the beauty of the town and the well-being of Cambrians. Helping families who might need a bit or communities that might need a lot.

Community

Today, like every Thanksgiving day, meals are being served at the Vet’s Hall free of charge for anyone in the community that might want to sit together with friends and strangers to share a meal and common humanity.

The gathering is more than a “help those less fortunate” event; it indeed is a community of good and caring Cambrians who both give and get the grace that comes from service and community. Faith, politics, economics and social status are left outside, and for this time of sharing, all is well. Soon we will be hosting thousands of visitors who will make the drive up the coast to enjoy the ever-growing Christmas Market, and discover the shops, restaurants, artists and, above all the magnificent beauty of ocean and mountain that surround us and remind us of what we have, and our responsibility to protect and defend all we have been given.

Not Far Away

This mixed sense of gratitude and responsibility is amplified by the heartbreaking devastation to our north and our south, where fire has ripped into other communities filled with people who found their place amidst the wild, and sometimes dangerous beauty that defines California. Riches, spiritual and material, have been tested and taken away from some, while strengthened in others who, despite seeing the world ignite, head into the fire to save and help.

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

Bruce Springsteen, Into The Fire

Standing Together

The giving and sharing we see today at the Vet’s Hall in beautiful Cambria are replicated across beautiful California. Maybe it is in a dark, smoky tent, barn, or other structure pressed into service to provide shelter and relief for those who have lost and those who have helped. Maybe it’s in a church or school gym. Perhaps it’s just one person bringing water and sandwiches to a displaced family, now living in their car parked in a rest area or a store parking lot. It is deeply meaningful for the giver and the receiver. Our humanity rises, always.

Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

No Mothers – and No Bootsies!!!

Andrews AvenueGrowing up in the Bronx was a lot of different things. Fun. Frightening. Rough. Loving. As crazy and unpredictable as urban life in the 60’s and 70’s could be, there were always rules. They weren’t written down, and they weren’t legally binding, but they were rules. Violating them could result in anything from exclusion to ridicule to, in extreme circumstances, a good beating. And that was just from the nuns!

Our Corner Of The World

The sprawling neighborhoods were rooted in groups of friends. Some were seeded by shared addresses, a common Little League team, or similar heritages. Others, like mine, were cultivated by a love of music. Some of us fumbled our way through the first shaky chords on a crappy guitar. Others found their groove on a basement drum kit or discovered their true soul on the church organ. New friendships grew out of those circles, as cars and motorcycles added to the list of passions. New introductions were made as sisters dated boys from a few blocks away. Part-time jobs connected us with people from exotic areas like Pelham Parkway and Far Rockaway.  Promises, hearts and the occasional bones were broken.

We Learn

Like kids, teens and young adults everywhere, we developed loyalties. We learned how to deal with differences. There were small spats and heated exchanges on the street or the basketball court, and as we became more familiar with the demon rum, in the drinking places and later the bars.

When we would hang around, busting balls and talking smack, things could sometimes escalate, with nobody wanting to back down, ever. Paul Lamacq, who lived in the next apartment building, would sense when the insults were getting out of hand, and would sternly say, “HEY! No mothers, and NO BOOTSIES!”  Bootsie was his mom’s little dog, who was often the subject of some amusement. Paul loved that dog as much as he loved his mother. So, when things got heated, the rule he invoked was simple. Fight all you want, but do not cross a line with words that can’t be taken back. Family, faith, anything that was personally painful or cruel stood out of bounds.

These Times

Today, over forty years removed, those core friendships still endure. Memories appear with an odd word, a faded picture, or a chance connection. A friend, out of touch for years, can call, and ten will answer.

As I  look across the tortured political climate that grips our country and our beautiful town, and I see and hear the hurtful things new friends and acquaintances say, I think to myself, No Mothers, No Bootsies.

​Now What?​

Cambria. For a “sleepy little seaside community” there sure is a lot of churning going on. Given the range of Cambrians and Cambria-hopefuls, every public dollar that is raised and spent gets a lot of attention. Moreso, every agency and administrator tasked with delivering the services that those dollars are intended to support face ever-mounting public pressure. While the three agencies – the Community Services District, the Healthcare District, and the School District – operate independently of each other, the issues they deal with have similar drivers – taxpayers and ratepayers.

  • Rate increases for Water, Wastewater and the Sustainable/Emergency Water Facility have been under consideration, with a lot of heat and energy being generated to thwart them through a Proposition 218 protest. That protest effort was unsuccessful, falling short by over 700 protest submissions needed to deny the rate increases.
  •  The Healthcare District has put a measure on the November ballot that would, if successful, levy an additional $35 annually on parcels served by the district to fund needed improvements to the District’s infrastructure, mainly focused on ambulance and facilities needs. The measure was supported by four Board Trustees, with one abstention.
  • Three seats are up for grabs on the Healthcare District Board. Of the three incumbents, only one declared as a candidate for re-election.
  • Two of three eligible seats will be on the ballot for the Community Services District. One is held by an incumbent, the other will replace an outgoing Director who chose not to run for another term. The third position – a two-year term –  will remain with the currently serving director, as nobody other than the incumbent filed to run for that position.
  • The School District will not have an election, as nobody but the incumbents applied for the two seats.

It is a challenging time to be an elected member of any of the three main administrative organizations. It is even more dangerous being an administrator of one of these organizations.

  • CCSD General Manager – Dismissed
  • CCHD Administrator – Retiring under duress
  • School Superintendent – Leaving office in January

Ye true “Loyal Natives” attend to my song
In uproar and riot rejoice the night long;
From Envy and Hatred your corps is exempt,
But where is your shield from the darts of Contempt!

Robert Burns 1759 – 1796

Economics

The cost of Cambria living is pretty high, and the traditional working-class families that are the heart and soul of many communities are struggling to take root, or stay rooted in the area. Housing costs are up there for both buyers and renters. The inventory mix is split among primary homes, second homes, vacation rentals, and some multi-family residences. Missing from that list is a reasonable stock of affordable housing options. Hence, some families looking to establish roots are finding Cambria out of reach.

In another bucket –  an aging population, many retired, many still working in occupations that have either low or speculative incomes such as artists, musicians, and craftspeople. They are faced with a reality that warns they may no longer be able to stay in the community they have called home for many years.

There are, of course, many residents who are in stable financial positions. I see the continuum sort of like the Circle of Life.

CCSD

Logo with CCSD.PNGThe Community Services District continues to be an organization under attack, with the General Manager the focus of an escalating, and ultimately successful battle to separate him from his job.

Some members of the community have been calling for his ouster, laying the blame for everything on his desk. Changes to the makeup of the Board of Directors gave the protesters a stronger voice behind the oak.

Messy

Some of the complaints are valid; mistakes in judgment have been made. Some of the issues could have been handled more skillfully.  But many of the problems Cambria face have very little to do with the GM’s job performance and a lot to do with circumstances he had been given to manage, often without clear direction from the board. And as always, not enough resources to fully attack the three billboards of under-funded projects that underpin the health and safety of the water and wastewater infrastructure.

After a flurry of Closed Session meetings – meetings that can generously be defined as sloppily arranged, noticed and reported, the General Manager and the Cambria Community Services District parted ways. The General Manager, Jerry Gruber, received a separation package consistent with the terms of his contract. This enraged some in the community, who believed that he should have been fired for cause.

Based on the lack of any formal performance metrics, evaluation process, corrective action plans and alignment of goals against district objectives, any other resolution would have been both unfair and imprudent.

A search for a replacement will be undertaken. Perhaps a re-examination of the job requirements might lead to a different approach to structuring the district administration. Is it a 1-person job? Are there candidates who really have all the skills and experience to manage a small but complicated community services district?

Personal

democracyFrom my back of the room perspective, I am both happy and sad that this situation has been resolved. It was clear that the relationship between Mr. Gruber and some members of the board was not good, and getting worse. Nobody was happy, and the longer it went, the uglier the dialog became.

The personal toll it was taking on Mr. Gruber, and his family was tough to watch. As his friend, I saw how it weighed on him. I also saw how he handled it with grace and professionalism. I was able to spend a bit of time with him as the curtain was being rung down, after the first closed session meeting where it was clear that change was imminent. He never said a bad thing about the board, the community or any individual, friend or foe. He pointed to his whiteboard and said he still had work to do, and he would report for duty and do his best until the clock ran out. Mistakes? Yes, mistakes were made, he agreed. Accomplishments? Yes, there were plenty, though often overshadowed by the voices of the perpetually pissed. Such is the life of any executive in any corporate or government agency.

I hope that, with some time and distance, everyone can find their way back to a less heated and more positive mindset. Some will, some won’t.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–

From Julius Caesar, By William Shakespeare

RATES

Sometimes I wonder if I attend the same meetings as others in the community.

For the past five-plus years I’ve listened to presentation after presentation from the GM and staff, as well as committee members charged with studying rates and fees that fund the district’s deliverables. In chart after chart, key infrastructure projects have been identified, risks described, actions taken, improvements made and improvements deferred. Many of these presentations were accompanied by cautions that projects postponed or upgrades delayed would add to the growing danger to the systems that deliver our water and take away and process our waste. PowerPoint after PowerPoint showed failing components, as well as repairs and replacements that had occurred. In each instance, the GM, or a Director, made the point that we continued to fall behind and that the revenue that comes into the District is significantly less than what is required to maintain everything.

To sharpen my thinking, I reached out to accomplished leaders I have worked with through my career to see if they might have insights into this complex challenge. I was connected, through a mutual friend, to Susan Leal, a noted expert on environmental, legislative and global water and infrastructure issues. I gave her a brief description of the situation, and she graciously responded with a simple, yet clear truth.

“My guess is that the rate increases surrounding water and wastewater are difficult to swallow—especially after the rates have been frozen or otherwise not kept up with the cost of delivering service.  Management of wastewater is often more expensive than water supply especially when the infrastructure is old and in need of an upgrade. 
Bottom line: in California and in growing number of areas throughout the country: we need to use less water and be prepared to pay more for it. I know that’s not comforting, but that’s often the reality.”

Wait a minute – we have had rate increases for years. Where did that money go???

Never Enough

As pointed out numerous times, the increases that were put into place were too gentle. The sensitivity to the taxpayer/ratepayer wallet overshadowed the economics of providing the services. I am often perplexed as to why this tidbit is rarely mentioned in a rush to find malfeasance, misconduct, incompetence and a million other reasons for opposing what, to many are rational and needed increases. As we track the effects of the newly-approved rates, it might be a good idea to maintain awareness that, even with the new revenue, it will not be enough to fund all the identified needs.

Keep Listening

Despite falling significantly short of protests, a good number of ratepayers spoke out in opposition to the increases. Many feel that the district has been and continues to be fiscally mismanaged, and demand a better accounting of how ratepayer money is spent. Others objected due to the financial hardship the increases will have on them as they struggle to maintain a life in Cambria. All of these concerns need to be considered as we move forward, and it will not be an easy road to navigate unless all involved make a real effort to work together for solutions that equitably and practically benefit as many of us as possible.

Goodness

On the bright side, the recently – formed and empowered Finance and Infrastructure committees have been doing great work, really digging in and identifying areas of improvements to process, evaluation, tracking and reporting to the Board, and by extension to the community. The committee members are smart, committed and collaborative – a great example of citizens working towards improving rather than decrying Cambria’s governance. Their efforts, backed by a pledge to jealously oversee the fiscal management of the district, should make us all feel more confident that the health of the community will be fairly and objectively managed.

School District

img-logo3The Coast Unified schools are struggling. Depending on how one looks at the data, the schools are failing, really failing, or beyond all hope. A declining enrollment, fueled by the economic climate in town, is putting pressure on the district to balance everything from course offerings to staffing. This uncertainty is triggering a growing number of parents to move their kids to different schools, some private and some public. This is a tough choice for many, as the schools they are choosing are towns away. This often means travel expenses, tuition costs, and significant changes to the schedules of the parents and students. It also adds to the stigma, fair or unfair, of the Coast Union school system.

No Confidence

The School Superintendent has been under fire for her performance. She has been equally under fire for her compensation, which is quite healthy. Taken separately, both are problems for a small community with a changing school profile. Together, they form an obstacle that can’t be ignored. Add to this list a very public vote of “no confidence” by a near-unanimous roster of Cambria’s teachers.

Under significant public pressure led by concerned parents, teachers, and interested community members, the Board came to an agreement to end the relationship with the current Superintendent.

A search for a replacement will be undertaken. Perhaps a re-examination of the job requirements might lead to a different approach to structuring the district administration. Is it a 1-person job? Are there candidates who really have all the skills and experience to manage a small but complicated school system?

Healthcare District

headerOver the past few months, I’ve taken a semi-casual look at how the Healthcare District is run. I reached out to all the elected Trustees and asked a series of questions based on my simple understanding of the organization, and my perceptions of how they were operating as an elected board. I received replies from four of the five members. Each response had different degrees of detail, from very short and unhelpful to very detailed and thoughtful. Each respondent was careful to stay within the bounds of the Brown Act as it relates to privacy, confidentiality and the appearance of “serial meetings’ – meaning each response was singular and addressed to me only.

My second approach was outreach to the staff that manages the district. I sent a detailed letter to Administrator Sayers, which contained reasonably detailed questions driven by my observations and by questions, comments, and positions taken by community members, particularly three members of a citizen’s committee that worked closely with some of the Board on issues and opportunities around the fiscal management of the District. The three members of that committee are all running for Trustee positions in the upcoming election.

Mr. Sayers responded with excellent, detailed information, and answered the questions I posed as best he could, again within the bounds of confidentiality and privacy. I was able to follow up with more detailed questions based on his responses, and he continued to respond with information and feedback from other staff members. Mr. Sayers was open, honest and most importantly professional in the way he conducted the dialog.

Mr. Sayers will be leaving his position at the end of the year.

UPDATED 10/7 – Mr. Sayers has left the organization.

A search for a replacement will be undertaken. Perhaps a re-examination of the job requirements might lead to a different approach to structuring the district administration. Is it a 1-person job? Are there candidates who really have all the skills and experience to manage a small but complicated healthcare district?

Public Presentations

Before the upcoming election, the community will have had the opportunity to see and hear the candidates for both the Healthcare District and the Community Services District. Small, invite-only gatherings are being hosted by citizens and groups within the community for the various candidates. Larger, more formal events will feature the candidates in a managed and moderated setting. The public will have the opportunity to engage in the process.

The Healthcare District Forum was held in late September. The three challengers – Iggy Federoff, Laurie Moyer-Mileur, and Bill Rice joined incumbent candidate Bob Putney for a well-moderated session that gave each candidate the opportunity to define themselves and their positions. The event was well-attended and respectfully conducted.

The Community Services District Candidates – challengers Cindy Steidel, Dennis Perry, and Donn Howell will join appointed incumbent Aaron Wharton and write-in candidate Steve Kniffen for a two-hour event on Wednesday, October 10th. The forum will be moderated by the League of Women Voters and will take place at the Joslyn Center on Main Street. I am looking forward to the session, and expect it will also be well attended.

Cambria, anything but sleepy!

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The Letter

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I’m having one of those days where past and present seem to swim together, leaving little wakes that diverge and overlap, rising and falling in free form. I’m feeling like these should somehow be tied together in a story, but I’m kind of afraid of screwing it up by forcing these thoughts and feelings into combinations that sound right in theory but kinda suck in practice.

But that never stopped me before, so…

Then and Now

I was happy to see that the business I devoted a lot of my life’s second act to today emerged as a stand-alone enterprise, free from the constraints of a larger corporate brand that at times helped, but also hindered the healthy evolution of a premier brand in a niche industry.

Pitney Bowes Document Messaging Technologies is now BlueCrest, with a new brand, a new market freedom, and I am sure the same hungry spirit, staffed by creative, innovative technologists and thought leaders. 

Catching glimpses of familiar faces in tweets and press releases was a gift I wasn’t expecting. I am happy for them, and a little envious that I’m not there to experience their next successful chapter.

Go get’ em, BlueCrest!

Document Messaging Technologies-BlueCrest  

Leadership

Over the course of my career, I got to experience leadership in all shapes and styles. When I wandered into Danbury looking for a short-term temp job to help me support my family, (as playwright Robert Andersen once said, “you can make a killing but you can’t make a living in the theatre”) the production mail business was very small, and very much behind in the industry. That changed rapidly, driven by a team of brilliant designers, engineers, field service professionals and support groups that somehow managed to take what at the time was undisciplined, adventurous passion and energy and form a world-class organization.

Building that business required a leadership team that could harness the chaos, set big goals and motivate everyone to work together. They had to figure out how to deal with the brilliant, the stubborn, the dreamers and the grind it out-ers who had to come together to build the business.

From the outside, that leadership team may have looked just as diverse and disheveled as the rest of the workforce. But they were far from that. Today, as I sit in the back of the room watching and listening as our community leaders make sense of complicated issues, I find myself thinking about lessons I learned from those who mentored me. I remember things they said and did, things that are stored away in my mental file cabinet, available for revisiting and reuse.

Empowerment, Given And Taken

‘It’s your business, do what you think.’ Brian Baxendale, a gregarious and insightful leader, had the ability to see the potential capabilities of an employee and provide the right amount of permission tempered with the right amount of firm guidance. He remains an inspiration to many of us who got the chance to try things, to fail, and to try again.  

Cambria’s recent struggle with the issues around our Fire Department gave our community an opportunity to engage in passionate debate about how we view our world, and how we want to see it in the future. Cambria is rich in so many ways, but that richness doesn’t extend to the financial realities many of us face.  It has been interesting to observe and participate in the spirited discussions in support of or in opposition to a tax measure that would fund three firefighter positions. The conversations revealed more political and philosophical facets than I expected.

There were supporters of the measure who face real economic pressures, yet valued the service the firefighters bring to the community. There were those who feel the same economic pressures who opposed the measure because it would have a real impact on them. Many of us are staring at increased costs for all the services we rely on, with limited opportunities for a complimentary increase in personal income. There are people who are more financially secure who supported the measure because the tax would not cause them pain, and the additional capabilities were viewed as cheap insurance against a high-probability fire event. There were those similarly positioned who believe the extra manpower was unnecessary, as the coverage provided by both local and county/CalFire departments is more than sufficient. There are supporters who respond emotionally (“these are our guys!!!”) and detractors who see everything as corrupt and driven by greed (those bastards are at it again!!!)  And there are many, both supporters and opponents, who check some of the boxes in all of these categories.

A Loss

The reality though is that after all the tumult the measure was not successful. The supporters delivered a 54% tally, which fell considerably short of the required supermajority of 66%.  

Analysis of the outcome provided some insights, notably that within each area of Cambria those who voted – and voter turnout was not great – delivered a majority “yes” vote. Like they say, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades… but is there a message in the 54%, beyond just winning and losing?  

bigboard

Can I get the Home Version of “Steve Kornacki’s Big Board”?

Informal polling, which has mainly been me asking people stuff, revealed that there was a real information gap in what the measure would do and how it would affect the fire services going forward. I was surprised to find that some folks thought the tax would add three additional members to the fire department. They did not realize that the defeat of the measure would result in the loss of three full-time professional firefighters. Of course, there were a lot of good, reasoned “no” votes, based on well-informed and considered rationale.

They Persisted

‘I’d like to try anyway.’   Ajay Ghia combined a studious, low-key approach with an unshakable determination to follow a course he knew was right. While presenting an acquisition recommendation to the corporate “C Suite” , he was met with a curt “you’re not going to convince me this is a good idea” from a notoriously difficult executive. After a beat Ajay replied, “I’d like to try anyway.” He then made a presentation that supported his position. The executive still did not agree, but he didn’t expressly kill the idea. Ajay and team went on to follow his strategy, the acquisition was made, and it became the platform for a series of systems that transformed the competitive landscape.

The members of the Cambria Fire Department are a determined and committed team who believe what they do is essential and critical to the health and safety of the community. They are also very dedicated to each other’s safety and success. As the community wrestled with the questions posed by Measure A-18, the firefighters continued to seek out ways to fund the three at-risk positions. The three firefighters had been hired under an earlier SAFER grant, which covered the cost for a period of two years. One of those efforts entailed applying for a second SAFER grant from FEMA.

Same Name, Different Rules

The difference between the first grant and the second grant is not trivial. Having seen the lack of follow-up from many communities who received the first round of grant funding, FEMA changed the rules and added a requirement that the governing agencies (CCSD) had to commit in writing to increasing levels of matching funds across the life of the award. This requirement raised the barrier to success considerably.   As opposed to the revenue A-18 would have provided, the cost of the match would fall to the CCSD, and by extension the community, with no additional revenue source to cover the expense.

Ready, Fire, Aim

‘Interesting, but Irrelevant’ Rick Jablonski, Sales Leader and strategist, would occasionally use this phrase when discussions would wander a bit and stall on issues that were tangential to the decisions that needed to be made. I find myself using it a lot lately.

Because the challenge wasn’t daunting enough, the staff report, required when matters are put before the board for consideration, contained a suggestion that funds currently directed to the support and maintenance of the Fiscalini Ranch might be redirected to the fire department. The funding deficit that would be then applied to the ranch would be filled by a potential parcel tax that would be dedicated to the ranch upkeep.

(Cue inspirational music)

The Fiscalini Ranch is a majestic oasis, with a history that in many ways defines Cambria.

20121002_123305

Note to self – remember sunscreen!

It means many things to many people, and there are community-based organizations that dedicate time and money to keep it safe and vital. Walking the bluff trail and sitting on one of the unique and beautiful benches is my version of going to church. 

I don’t quite know where that proposal came from, or how much thought went into the ramifications of proposing it in this context, but it sure landed with a big BOOM. Suggesting that taking steps to “unfriend” the Ranch stirred a response that filled the cozy meeting room with community members who likely would riot (politely and gently) should the suggested actions gain approval.

Reverberations!

‘Is this resonating?’ Bernie Gracy has been described as having “a brain the size of a small planet.” He was and is a tireless innovator with a passion for 100 + slide PowerPoint presentations, delivered with spell-binding energy and intelligence. He would always make sure to pause, wave his arm in front of the screen and ask the audience “is this resonating?”  A great reminder to validate that what we say is well understood.

This suggestion did two things; one positive and one amazingly damaging. On the positive side, the immediate and passionate response brought into crisp focus just how much the community will support and protect the Ranch. A smaller, though equally important effect, was carrying more of the community to the meeting, where they could see and hear the issues in person, and not have to rely on others, including me, to tell them what happened. Many of us who share our views and recollections do so through the lens of our own positions, which can unfairly shade the story as it is retold. A shining exception to that is Kathe Tanner, our long-serving journalist who has seen it all and told it all. Her report of the meeting was crisp, factual and spin-free.

The damaging part of the recommendation was that it cast the firefighters as villains, and gave fuel to opponents who had both subtly and overtly positioned them in that light throughout the discussion leading up to the June vote. That battle was pretty brutal, and the rank and file of our small but mighty fire department were put in the position to represent themselves in the debate.  They had the disadvantage of being firefighters and not accomplished debaters, opinion shapers, or skillful public commentators. Nor were they inclined to get down in the mud with some opponents filled with a weird rage built on a worldview that everything CCSD is corrupt, incompetent, greedy or otherwise evil. Instead, they had to make their case again, having seen the community not support their cause through the ballot box, yet facing what they believe is a serious staffing shortfall.

Facts and Reason

What was meant to be a simple, administrative and policy discussion to determine if the required letter of commitment should be issued quickly changed as the Board saw the furor the public release of the supporting staff report set off across the town. Board President Amanda Rice did an excellent job of setting the correct expectations for what was to be discussed and considered, and what was not to be considered. The ” not” was the linkage of Ranch funding to Firefighter funding, or any other method for funding the required grant match. The other members of the board added similar commentary, and also expressed a bit of discomfort with the inclusion of it in the report. This demonstration of leadership from the board went a long way towards averting unnecessary and destructive commentary from a rightfully upset gathering of citizens and Ranch lovers.

The Public, Speaking 

‘Here’s my sense of the thing…’was the signal that Karl Schumacher had finished his process of examining an issue and coming to a recommendation. This phrase artfully set the table for a well-reasoned and insightful answer rather than a partisan position. Amazingly effective and diplomatic.

Objections

With the floor open for public comment, community members shared their thoughts on the issue at hand. Most of the comments were in opposition to the request for commitment. Some arguments were made using perceived deficiencies and inaccuracies in the grant application, and the long-range financial impact the funding requirement would have on the fiscal health of the district. Issues raised also included the thought that the recent defeat of A-18 was a clear signal that the community had spoken and did not want tax dollars spent on funding the fire department positions. This position had been shared by a fair number of people on social media prior to the meeting.

Support

I spoke in favor of supporting the grant, sharing my belief that the staffing levels advocated by the fire department, and endorsed by every fire professional I had interviewed, were both sensible and necessary. I also shared my dismay at the proposal to take from Fiscalini and give to Fire Department, likening the use of that tactic to Fake News – tossing an incendiary topic into the middle of a serious issue, resulting in a splatter of shrapnel that causes injury to common sense and thoughtful discourse. I also made a pitch for treating those with opposing views, and in this particular situation our firefighters, with less disdain and more respect.  Cambria Health District Board President Jerry Wood, speaking as a private citizen, also voiced support for the measure.

Convincing

The most resonant and reasoned presentation came from Ted Siegler, a highly capable and respected community member with in-depth knowledge of the District’s financial condition as well as the working of the Fiscalini Ranch. Ted has served and continues to serve in leadership roles on multiple committees and boards, including the CCSD Finance Committee and Fiscalini Ranch organizations. I think I also saw him on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Armed Services committee, but that may have been different prominent white-haired guys.

Ted laid out a clear set of facts, challenged some of the numbers that were included in the staff report, and concluded with the position that due to the district’s fiscal condition it would be irresponsible to take on additional financial responsibilities with no offsetting increase in revenues. It was practically impossible, absent a purely emotional motivation, to disagree with his findings and recommendation.

Decision Time

The talking stick was returned to the board, and they had further discussion about what they were about to decide. Cambria Fire Captain and grant writer Emily Torlano answered questions and clarified some information about how the grant was written and submitted. She noted that there was a question in the grant application that asked if the agency would like to request a financial hardship waiver of the matching funds requirement. The decision to check “no” had been made based on previous practice and with the thought that checking “yes” might have a negative impact on the application. It should be noted that the grant application process was begun well before Measure A-18 was placed on the ballot – a reasonable action given the uncertainty of the funding options to maintain the three firefighters hired under the original grant.

Before voting, the question was raised whether the Grant Application could be amended to change the hardship checkbox to “yes.” It was clear that the vote was going to go against the request, and options including not responding at all, returning with a brief decline – to – commit funding letter, or something else that would have the same effect but not incur a red mark against Cambria should future grant opportunities arise. In the end, the language used in the letter articulated the reasons for the decision to not commit. They were: District’s uncertain financial condition, and the defeat of Measure A -18. 

Next 

The decision the board made, while disappointing to some of us, was the right one for the community. As messy as it got, the Board showed solid thinking, compassionate listening, and excellent, committed leadership. 

The firefighters were a bit disheartened, but I believe they left feeling they got a fair hearing from the board and most of the community. There is no gloating or complaining to be done here; there should be some comfort in knowing the process worked, our voices were heard, and our elected leaders did their job with intelligence, honesty, and fairness. I hope we take that forward with us as we steam full speed ahead into the next hurricane of rate increases and ambulance taxes.

UPDATE

Shortly after the decision was made to withdraw the grant application, the Cambria Fire Department was notified that their application had been approved and the grant awarded. They had to decline.

 Pat Carberry spent his professional life leading different functions with grace, wit and compassion. Pat was also a hard-nosed businessman when necessary. He served in Vietnam as an Army Green Beret, but rarely spoke about his service. Pat was famous for the “Letters From God” that he’d read at the retirement parties of fellow PB’ers. When it came time for him to retire, he took a very different approach. He spoke quietly, and shared, ‘I’ve seen the horrific things human beings have done to each other.” A pause, then he looked at each one of us and said “Love one another.’

Fire On The Hill

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Fire interrupted the May night, bringing the residents of a quietly beautiful neighborhood out to the street, fearful and perhaps momentarily confused by what they were seeing. A house, no, a home was glowing and snarling with the fury of a thousand nightmares. A neighbor, injured and in pain, seeks help as her home is consumed by a disaster. All of this drama unfolds in a community that stands some distance apart from the towns that would come to help in times of crisis.

All times taken from the official Incident Report. 
Tuesday, May 29, 2018.
Incident Number: 18-CASLU 005543
Incident Name: PINEWOOD
Event Number: 18007179

It Begins

1:28:56 AM – With a keystroke, an emergency operator connects to an incoming caller, urgently reporting a fire in the Pine Knolls area of Cambria. The operator, well-trained and alert, takes in the information that sets an incident response in motion. 

05/29/2018 1:30:08 ROOF ON FIRE, CAN SEE IT FROM HER HOME, SOMEONE YELLING FOR HELP - from dispatch report

1:30: 28 AM– Based on the caller’s input, the operator executes the dispatch protocol, and the Emergency Services response begins.

On Duty
Cambria Fire Department’s “A” shift was on duty, halfway through a 48-hour shift. The team, under the command of CFD Captain Emily Torlano, is made up of Engineer Michael Burkey, SAFER Firefighter Ian Poelman, and Reserve Firefighter Tim Murdoch.

Their primary response unit, Engine 5792 was parked in the bay, ready to go. Additional response units include an older, backup engine, and a water tender which is a critical unit in areas where water is not always readily available.  An emergency response vehicle, carrying the tools and technology needed to support the often dangerous response and rescue operations sits ready.

1:32:28 AM – Dispatch

Firefighter Ian Poelman walks through his response to the call.

“We had returned to the station from a callout about an hour earlier. I was in my assigned room, resting. We were in the middle of our 48 hour shift, so you grab what sleep you can. I heard the bells coming through the speaker in the room. The dispatcher’s tone was slightly more urgent than usual, and his report of a structure fire with potential injury told me this was a serious incident. The team responded immediately, falling into the process we have learned. Dress and go. As we took our places on the engine, I went through my mental checklist of all the steps we would take during the response.”

1:33:53 AM – Engine en route

“Our mobile GPS was launched.  Maps popped up with a location and route. The incident response binder showed us the locations of nearby hydrants. Captain Torlano went through her routine, devising an initial plan based on the information she had. We train for these events, so a lot of the steps we take are familiar. But you don’t know everything until you get to the scene.”

1:40:56 AM – On Scene

As the ranking officer first on the scene, Captain Torlano became the Incident Commander. The responsibility for directing the response and managing the assignments for all the crews that would eventually join the fight was hers. The Captain describes the scene and her decision-making process.

“I was the incident commander. I did my walk around, sized up the situation, and eliminated rescue. There was an injured resident who was being treated by a neighbor, who is a nurse. I released the patient to the ambulance crew that had arrived on scene.”

1:42:52 AM – Cambria Healthcare District Ambulance on scene
1:43:58 AM – Patient Contact
1:53:10 AM – Patient Transport

Torlano continues. “Neighbors were yelling at us in distress as fire consumed the house and threatened their homes and the other precious exposures – the forest.   After completing my walk around and reporting to dispatch we still don’t have water on the fire.”

Firefighter Poelman describes what the team was doing as Captain Torlano made her assessment.

“We located the nearest hydrant, and Firefighter Murdoch executed his assignment. He grabbed the hydrant bag from the back of the engine and began unreeling the 4” line that would deliver water from the hydrant to the engine. He wrapped it around the hydrant and secured it. The truck then moved forward towards the fire, neatly spooling out the line. Murdoch went through the process of readying the hydrant. Clear any obstructions around the hydrant. Remove the hydrant cap. Open the valve and flush out any debris. Close the valve. Connect and secure the hose to the hydrant. Reopen the valve when the engine was connected at the other end.

Captain Torlano adds, “My firefighter at the hydrant is the one in-town reserve. He is like a Jedi – extremely knowledgeable and methodical. I am grateful he was there.”

The 4” line is connected to the water source. It is now Engineer Michael Burkey’s turn.

Engineer

As the Engineer on the crew, Michael Burkey’s responsibilities are critical and time-sensitive. He shares his view of the response.

“We knew the call was serious, because the tones kept sounding, indicating a significant event requiring a significant response. As I drove the engine towards the fire, I recalled that I had been on this very street hours earlier responding to a medical assist call. We approached the intersection and got a good look at the fire that was cutting through the light fog and lighting up the night sky.  Priority one was locating the hydrant, and positioning the engine where the supply line and tools could be deployed quickly and safely. Once that was done, I drove the engine towards the fire, stopping just forward of the house. This gave us the best view of the scene and more importantly allowed us to lay out our lines cleanly without unnecessary obstacles. I secured the engine, chocking the wheels front and back. Then, I disconnected the end of the main supply line from its mooring and reattached it to the engine pump. I signalled Tim Murdoch that we were ready to receive water.”

 We all finish getting our scba’s on to protect our airways, and I notice there is still no water on the fire… the neighbors are getting anxious as am I… I see hands raised, yelling, fists- I have no more bodies…Captain Torlano

Let it flow

Connections are now complete, and Engineer Berkey has the engine’s pumping system charged, balanced and ready to go. The Incident Commander instructs Burkey and  Poelman to pull the 2.5” diameter hose and begin attacking the fire. This particular hose has the capability of putting out 500 gallons a minute at high velocity. It is usually managed by two people, but there was nobody else available at that moment. Poelman deployed what is called a “hotel coil” where the nozzle is fed under the coiled hose, and then the operator kneels on it to help control the powerful stream of water. Firefighter Poelman is, as some might describe, a strapping young man. Even so, the level of physical strength needed to manage this task is not trivial.

 “Ian is now our hero as he douses massive amounts of water on the fire. But the cooling does not squelch the flames as I had hoped…” Captain Torlano reports.

Situational Awareness

Poelman realized that he was not getting the best angle on the fire, so he repositioned himself closer to the flaming front of the house and re-engaged. He shares, “We’re trained to maintain situational awareness, and not to get tunnel vision. It can be hard to not lock in on what is in front of you, with flames jumping out, wood popping and cracking, smoke and steam just feet away. Was it hot? Well, I could feel the heat a bit through my boots, and behind my mask.”

1:35:03 AM Cal Fire en route
1:42:01 AM Cal Fire on scene

Firefighters from Cal Fire Station 10 have arrived on the scene, geared up and are given their assignments.

The fire was blowing out the windows at the back of the house. The Cal Fire crew quickly attached one of the 1.75″ hoses to the CFD engine and went down the side of the house to gain access to the rear of the building. They trained their hose on the fire, sandwiching the blaze between themselves and Poelman, who was still engaging from the front.

Engineer Burkey now has two active lines plus the intake hose to manage. Each line has different pressure levels that need to be tightly monitored. Burkey focuses on the controls, adjusting them as needed to ensure the firefighters always have the right amount of water pressure to do the job.

“I knew the Cal Fire team was putting water on the fire when I saw steam rise over the roof where their attack met the flames,” Poelman recounts.  

Captain Torlano adds, “They saved the two houses next door. All of this felt like hours, but it was really maybe 10 minutes.”

Teamwork

The two engines worked in synchronicity and contained the fire safely from the exterior. When the fire volume had been contained enough, Captain Torlano ordered Poelman and Murdoch to take up the second 1.75″ hose and enter the house from the front to continue the fight. The two men quickly connected the hose and did a “buddy check” to make sure they had all their gear securely in place and ready to go. With everything ready, they entered, as the Cal Fire crew continued their efforts from the rear of the house.

As they entered, they were met with a combination of heated smoke, steam, and pockets of flame. They poured water on the fire, advancing steadily into the house, turning right towards the kitchen, where it seems the fire originated. They trained the hose on the ceiling over the stove, where flickering flames still grabbed for something to burn.

Moving

With the flames extinguished, they heard the Incident Commander asking if they could find an entry into the adjacent garage, where the fire was still active. Smoke and steam made it difficult to see much, even as the two men got down close to the floor where the air was less dense. With no clear path to the garage, they were ordered to back out and see if they could gain access from the front of the garage. Unable to raise the locked door, they proceeded down the side of the structure, meeting up with the Cal Fire crew who located an exterior door that led to the garage. Upon entry, they were able to find and release the overhead latch, manually lift the door and enable the garage space to vent.

The interior crew did a primary search, confirming there was nobody else inside the house. They faced, as described by Captain Torlano, “a severely destroyed house, with huge amounts of damaged structural members, tangled wires; essentially a very fragile shell.”

They brought out a photo album with burnt but salvageable photos and about 5 items of clothing… grasping to save something…” Capt. Emily Torlano

Support

As the incident progressed, more help arrived from the surrounding communities under the Mutual Aid agreements.

01:30:27 AM - Cal Fire Battalion Chief Dispatched
01:36:05 AM - en route
01:54:01 AM - on scene

Second engine requested by Cal Fire

01:52:34 AM – Cal Fire Headquarters Engine Dispatched
01:59:00 AM –Engine en route
2:20: 40 AM – Engine on scene

  Cayucos

1:30:27 AM – Cayucos Fire Dispatched
1:52:35 AM – Cayucos reports unable to find an operator 
for engine

 and Morro Bay

01:30:27 AM – Morro Bay Fire dispatched
01:34:56 AM – en route
02:01:24 AM – on scene

And from over the hill

01:30:28 AM – Templeton Fire Dispatched
01:36:37 AM - en route 
02:09:20 AM - on scene

 Logistics

As the response continued, Captain Torlano dealt with real-time issues. The neighborhood sits near the top of a fairly steep hill, making it challenging for responding engines and support vehicles to get close to the fire. The street itself is one of the wider and well-maintained roads, but it quickly became tough to manage the logistics of each responding agency. The Morro Bay truck and crew had to park a distance away, then grab their tools and gear and walk the rest of the way to the scene. This added minutes to their response. When they got to the fire, they were assigned to work with the CFD team on the interior of the building. Ian Poelman describes the combined efforts. “We continued to search out any pockets of fire that might still be burning. We used our tools to punch holes in the ceilings and the drywall, where fires can smolder undetected for some time. Tiring work but that is what we train for – mentally and physically.” The team ended up crawling through the attic – not the safest task, but critical in ensuring that the fire didn’t reappear later.

Just Breathe

Meanwhile, the response team from Templeton provided a critical piece of equipment that allowed the firefighters to continue working safely. Their emergency vehicle carries what is called “breathing support” – a system that refills the air bottles that the responders use to breath as they do their work. These bottles supply about 30 minutes of air and begin beeping as the remaining supply reaches a critical level. With this tone, the firefighters must withdraw and replace their air supply. The Templeton refill system allows for continuous and rapid resupply, keeping the firefighters in the game.

Keeping watch 

Even with this support, the firefighters are under significant physical duress and have to take breaks to hydrate, rest and be checked by a teammate to make sure they aren’t injured or otherwise unable to continue on the fire. This taxes resources and is an ever-present concern for all responders.

Winding Down

The response continued on for several hours. Constant check-ins revealed all personnel accounted for, and resources were released as they completed their assignments. As 4 AM approached, most responders were on their way back to their stations.

The Cambria Fire Department team remained on scene to continue cleanup and to monitor for potential flare-ups. Cambria Fire also deployed their water tender, which could quickly provide support if needed.

11:34:30 AM – Cambria Water Tender released.

Time from the first contact to final scene departure – 10 hours, 6 minutes.

Back Home

The fire was out, but the work continued for “A” shift. Far from taking a break, the crew went into the next phase of their job – clean up and inspection.

During a fire, a whole host of substances fly everywhere, covering equipment, tools, protective gear, clothes, skin and everything in between. Before leaving the scene, the crew strips off all their gear and bags it, with the goal of keeping as many contaminants out of the truck as possible. Back at the firehouse, that gear goes to the laundry room – a simple term to describe a complex process of decontamination. Every piece of gear is cleaned and checked before being put away. Each hose is unfolded, inspected for damage, pressure cleaned and put back into proper position. The engine is washed, the interior scrubbed with decontamination solutions. 

Preventive Measures

The firefighters must then shower to remove any grime and potentially harmful particles that may have found them during the incident. They must also, within 24 hours do one hour of strenuous, sweat-making exercise to help sweat out any potential carcinogens or other harmful matter. Another shower, then, if the shift has ended, they can relax. Or, if the shift continues, stay ready for the next call.

Coda

For Captain Torlano, the shift continued for another day. During that shift, her team was called for an emergency cardiac distress medical response. Captain Torlano, who is also a fully certified Paramedic, found herself cardioverting the patient – (shocking the heart out of lethal rhythm) and her SAFER firefighter, who is also a paramedic, began an IV. An ambulance arrived and transported the patient to the hospital, with the firefighter riding along to continue assisting.

And on it goes, day to day, shift to shift. 

“Catching the 1”

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Music has always been a big part of my life. I’ve spent large blocks of time engaged in the art, as a player, a composer, collaborator and always an appreciative consumer. It touches me all the time and is one of the biggest influences on my emotional health.
As a much younger person, I would occasionally do work around music, including a stint as a sound guy for a concert series at the Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden in North Salem, NY. The museum lives in a magnificent mansion that features a great room perfect for intimate events. The artists that perform in this beautiful house range from the exotic – visiting Japanese traditional musicians, dancers, and storytellers to Avant Garde musicians like composer David Amram. Two concerts stand out in my mind, and I think of them – and the lessons I took from them often.

Words…

The first mental memento features the songwriter, Bart Howard. He wrote a good number of “standards” that became staples of the cabaret/jazz/smoky hotel club scene. His most popular and successful composition can be heard on recordings by great saloon singers including Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and by equally gifted singers from different genres, each interpreting the piece in their unique style. The song’s original title was “In Other Words.” It was soon changed to its more recognizable title “Fly Me to The Moon.” Sure, I’ll wait while you sing a few bars…
What sticks in my mind is not so much the song, but the story Bart Howard told. Even more than that, the way he performed it that afternoon. He was getting up there in age, and his voice, soft and polite, was at best passable; he hit the notes but struggled to hold them. He played the piano with elegance and wistful phrasing that painted a whole new picture. It was mesmerizing to hear that familiar love song shared by the person who wrote it, with the inflections and emphasis in places other singers missed. It was genuine, it was real, and it was pure art. I had a brief opportunity to chat with Mr. Howard after the show, and he was as kind, intelligent and engaging as his songs.
My lesson learned – anyone can interpret your words, thoughts, and ideas, but nobody can give it the same true meaning as the original.

Nat King Cole sings the standard, similar in style to Mr. Howard’s rendition.

…and Music

The second concert featured a name that most will recognize, spread across generations. Legendary composer/pianist Dave Brubeck passed along his gifts to his children, including sons Chris and Daniel, who performed their unique blend of sounds in a trio with brilliant jazz pianist Andy LaVerne. The musicianship was stunning, and what took it up a notch was the conversation with the audience, as Chris talked about the music, the inspiration and the unholy alliance of art and science, precision and free-form creativity. During one extended piece, each musician took a turn, soloing around and through the song structure. After a while I lost all count of the time, it was almost irrelevant. Then, as Daniel floated through an incredibly complex drum solo, BOOM – they all came together as one unit and took the tune to the end. After the applause died down, Chris spoke about what had transpired. He described the synchronicity as “catching the one” – meaning that through all the free flight of jazz improvisation, they all could come together on the downbeat – they all found the “1.”
Oh yeah, Dave Brubeck also sat in with his sons that afternoon.

Clip of the Brubeck Laverne Trio from the 1980’s

This lesson comes in handy in more than just musical situations. I look at it as a good reminder that every conversation, every issue, and every complex problem can take on a  fractal pattern, leaving an often morose Michael trying to remember what he was thinking about. Oh yeah – Measure A-18!

I’ve decided to vote in favor of Measure A-18. Coming to this decision was a surprisingly involved and at times confusing process that took me to all corners of the community.

Fairness

There are legitimate reasons to not like this measure. The tax itself is not, in my view, very fair. Parcel owners will be asked to pay the same amount of additional tax, whether their parcel is empty or full of house. Parcel owners who have little chance of building on their property will be asked to pay for something they may never get to enjoy. People who have multiple parcels will be taxed on each parcel. Parcel owners who do not live in Cambria will have no vote. People who live here and are registered to vote will have the power of the ballot, regardless of property ownership.
This issue, more than any other, held me back from a decision. In the end, I concluded that there might be different ways to split the tax baby, but there is no magic formula that will make everyone happy and whole. As for the argument that renter/residents get to vote to tax others – well, we live in America, don’t have landed gentry anymore, and as citizens, we have the right to cast votes on issues that impact the community we choose to call home. More than that, we have an obligation to use our vote wisely, for the benefit of all as best we can.

It Adds Up

The next issue that held me back is also tax-related. $62.15 a year does not seem like a big deal. But it is $62.15 on top of already meaningful taxes and assessments property owners pay. Utility rates have risen, and additional rate increases are on the table for consideration. The Health District struggles to remain solvent, and they are discussing another tax initiative to go before the community. This cost must be viewed as a part of a broader challenge.
My thought here is simple; we have to make a decision on what is in front of us now, and accept that the other two potential levies are not formed and not immediate. This decision has a deadline of June 5th.

Need

The third issue that I struggled with was determining the real need for the staffing that this measure will fund. There have been very strong and very weak arguments made on this critical issue. I spent most of my time sorting through this one. People I know and respect oppose the measure, and people I know and respect support the measure. I decided to go back to basics, follow my usual process and dig into each bullet on the list, from both sides.

Process

As my journey progressed, I was able to get face time and phone time with multiple people involved in the Emergency Services business that protect Cambria and the surrounding region. I asked what I believe to be tough questions – my own and those raised by various community members. I looked at statistics, read reports and visited with both Cambria Fire and Cal Fire. I spoke with CCSD staff and several elected Directors. I engaged in a detailed back and forth via email. To ensure I was as fair and unbiased as I reasonably could be, I asked a trusted friend to review (with permission) my discussions with the involved parties. I challenged the agencies, and suggested areas for improvement in their communications. They argued their points, adjusted their thinking, and built better arguments. Their initial efforts were not strongly formed or articulated, making their battle tougher than it needed to be.

Fair or Not?

The back and forth led to a few realizations. First, why has it been left to the line troops to fight this battle? It seems unfair. Secondly, they are firefighters, not politicians or lobbyists, yet they are acting in those capacities and taking the shots that come along with those roles.
In spite of all that, they continued with their efforts. The arguments improved. Communications were polished. They actively engaged and listened, responded with reasoned, fact-based information, and maintained their composure and their dignity.

Live and Local

Finally, the second community town hall convinced me that the firefighters’ positions are valid, the needs they have are legitimate, and the support they have received from other agencies, specifically, Cal Fire remains strong.

Beyond the Bullets

The speakers focused on the relevant theme – time and resources. They did a good job of taking the discussion beyond the top-level bullet points and drilled deeper into how the staffing model impacts not just fire response but all the other tasks and duties they perform. They provided real statistics on the decline of the “volunteer” force in Cambria and across the country. They defined – finally – what a volunteer is, and what is required of them to be eligible to serve in that capacity. They cited the law that made extensive training and certification mandatory. A point that they underplayed, but which caught my attention, was the overall effect of losing the three existing firefighter positions. It is an important point that becomes clearer when put into the context of what Cambria Fire and Emergency Services across the country face.

Quick Math

The current reality is that CFD engine is generally staffed with a captain/paramedic, an engineer, a firefighter and a reservist (the equivalent of a paid volunteer.) The reservist pool is pretty shallow, with two in-town qualified and trained people who may or may not be available to respond or pull shifts. With out-of-town reservists, that pool expands to 9 people, who may or may not be available when needed. So,if you subtract the third professional firefighter, then add the uncertainty of reservist availability, it is possible that the engine response team could be just two people. A likely scenario – no. A possible scenario – certainly.

And So…

The community members who attended were engaged, perhaps under-informed, but interested in hearing the arguments from all sides. I thought about the anger over the “fear tactics” being used to influence the community. At the end of the night, I sensed that given the realities of our environment, maybe a little fear is warranted. As I listened to the presenters and the attendees, I went through my list of questions, objections, and arguments and asked myself – were they addressed and answered successfully? For me, an overwhelming number of them were.

So I finally, after a lot of work, the issues came together and resolved in my mind. I “caught the 1.”

And now on to the next exciting movement. Maybe something in a waltz.

No Tomatoes? No Problem!

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Community
Friday – the end of the work week. (Who am I kidding – I don’t have a real work week!) Friday means Farmer’s Market, and a chance to see people from across the community as CFM-Logo-PNG-Fullwell as people visiting our beautiful town. The fruits and vegetables are fresh and healthy (or so I’ve been told by those who enjoy such things), and the line for freshly baked bread and other pastryorial goodies testifies to the enduring popularity of flour-based solutions. I have learned to look for the baguettes with the best ears. I know – “don’t get too technical, bread boy!”
I enjoy Farmer’s Market for a whole lot of reasons, but mostly for the opportunities to chat with friends, acquaintances and strangers who weave through the market stands manned and womanned by a constant and comforting group of regulars. Today was only slightly different, as I was let loose, unaccompanied by my awesomely patient wife. I’m a chatty guy on a good day, and today was a great day!

Start Here
As I entered the Market grounds I said a quick hello the to the regular greeter, a man of faith who takes up his post every week, pamphlets at the ready but never forced into the hands or minds of the produce-seekers. For some reason he was leashed to a small dog today; probably keeping watch on the little angel as its owner observed the “no dogs allowed” rule which, while a bit unpopular to some makes good sense for the overall experience. A quick nod and smile, then a steely resolve as I barrel past the scented temptress known by its legendary name of “Kettle Corn.” I think it’s Egyptian, or maybe Aztec. Korean? Not sure, but it is a pure temptation. I usually resist, but when my granddaughter Chloe visits, we stop. She is young and knows not what she does. Well actually (as she now says in her nearly four-year-old rational voice) she knows exactly what she does closing her pitch with “and we will bring some home to mommy!” But today, I am on my own, so keep your scented kettle on your side of the parking lot, thank you very much.
A quick turn to the right, just past the beautiful flowers on the first table, I see Harry. After a rough start, we have developed a cordial relationship, and I enjoy chatting about whatever happens to be going on around us. I mentioned that for someone who doesn’t do a lot of social media his picture sure appears frequently on my Facebook feed. He is, as he sheepishly acknowledges, a bit of a local celebrity. He shared a quick anecdote about being introduced to a visitor as a local rock star! And he kind of is – engaged in civic and social activities, friend and acquaintance to many. He makes the rounds, his basket slowly filling with his coming week’s menu. A quick chat, a quick check on health and off we go our separate ways.

Bread, No Circus
I quickly slide in line at the baker’s table, nervously counting the remaining baguettes in the tin bucket. Two left, one person in front of me, looking like she is wrapping up her transaction. Good, my odds are good. I scored a lovely loaf, well-eared and so freaking fragrant I had to wipe my joyful tears away as I ransacked my pocket for a case quarter to happily hand over with my bill, getting the paper change that would be applied at my next stop.
A quick diagonal takes me to Bautista’s, where I exchange quips with the friendly and hard-working young woman who never fails to say “I like your haircut” – to which I reply “and yours looks fabulous” – even when neither of us has seen a salon in a while. I must say, I enjoy these exchanges especially when her partner in produce – an older woman who is all business (her mother, perhaps?)gives a quick glance and almost smiles. One day, she will crack and say something more than “$2.00” as she hands me my carrots. Some day…

Uh Oh…
I instinctively took a step to my left, only to notice something was terribly wrong. The tomato guy was not there! Let me repeat that – no tomato guy! My silent scream was felt, I’m sure, as far away as Pineridge, where a lanky, thoughtful man in a white Corvette froze for a second as the phrase “he only came for tomatoes” somehow filled the space around his consciousness. But that was a different blog…

Friendly Faces
My dark mood quickly lightened as I saw her – my across the street neighbor Marian. She is a striking woman with a quick wit and pale blue eyes that convey a real interest in what is being discussed. We talk often but never enough. She didn’t seem to notice the absence of the tomato guy; perhaps her years as an attorney has given her the practiced inscrutability of a judge. Perhaps she just doesn’t like tomatoes – I do not know. Either way, it was great to see her. We were soon joined by Marie, who I’ve seen more over the past weeks than I had over the past year. The two women knew each other casually, so the conversation flowed easily. Then, as if my luck hadn’t been good enough up to that point, we were joined by the ebullient Kathe Tanner, ace reporter, noted gastronome, and the only person in California outside my immediate family who knows about Dom and Vinnie’s pizza. (The one off the Sprain Brook Parkway, up the street from Gate of Heaven Cemetery. A cemetery which had the greatest sign ever – “Archdiocese of New York ~ Gate of Heaven Cemetery ~- Gates close at 4:30pm.”)

News with Heart
We talked a bit about the changes in the local paper, and Kathe shared her hope to keep telling the stories that really reflect not only the news of the town but the heart of the townspeople. Kathe has a wonderfully warm way of storytelling, and her words really touch readers as witnessed by the comments that often follow her pieces. We parted on the question “how long do you have to live in Cambria to be considered a local?” I may have to go to the Cambria Historical Society to dig up that answer!

Good Lord!
Our cluster broke apart as we headed to our next stops. I stopped a bit short of mine as I saw what seemed to be a tableau from Game of Thrones. Princess Stephanie of Soups was on one knee in front of the corner stand, the dynastic Dragon Spring Farm. A second look revealed that she was actually taking a picture of the signs on the front of the table, and not, as I first thought, bending the knee to the Mother of Dragon Spring nor the Lord of Lemons, the wonderful Carol and Mike Broadhurst. Mike took the opportunity to regale us all with his critically acclaimed solo from the Cambria Chorale’s seasonal concert. That was four bars that will live in infamy! Though I missed the concert, I had gotten a report about Carol’s frolicking frock and snazzy shoes, which, when I mentioned them had Carol beaming at the memory. I’m pretty sure she did a little joyful two-step, narrowly avoiding grandson Braden as he toddled in behind her on his way to grabbing some blocks from the bin under the tables.

Sighted Sounds
Continuing on around the bend, I scanned the various offerings, quickly making and then breaking eye contact with the peanut brittle guy, who had started his “sample?” spiel but recognized me as a guy who has never said yes in the five years plus I’ve attended the market. As I drew closer to the end of the row of vendors, two things touched my senses at the same time. First, a few clouds had me thinking I had to pick up the pace, as I was burning daylight. Then, an encroaching aroma told me Linn’s was burning brisket, Thirdly, my ears alerted me that someone or something was burning through some standards. I looked up and saw a bevy of brass – the place was lousy with trombones! Now, the trombonists were not lousy at all – they were actually (as Chloe would say) really really good! I slid (see what I did there, Allison?) up to where the band was holding forth… because there were four of them. Otherwise, they would be holding thirds or fifths…(I did it again, Allison!)
Seated at the picnic table in front of the musicians was the delightful Ruth Fleming; singer, painter and all around joy to hang out with. Her husband was one of the troubadours, so I guess she had to be there… I kid, I kid! We got to catch up a bit and exchange terrible puns as we enjoyed the music. Ruth makes me smile and is one of the lights that make Cambria so interesting.

Exit Stage Left
By now I worried my absence would be noticed at home, so I wrapped it up and headed for the exit. On the way out, an SUV was pulling into the parking lot, probably a bit faster than conditions called for. I stopped quickly and looked across the driveway as a young paramedic from the ambulance corps was entering the grounds. We both looked at the SUV, and I said: “if he had run me over you were there to save me.” He replied, wise beyond his years, “better for both of us that he didn’t.” Whoa, heavy!

Another Facet In The Jewel
I safely crossed the street, got into the car and headed home, but not before making a stop at Cambria Coffee Roasters. I really like going there for a few reasons, which even on occasion involves coffee. The appeal of the place is two-fold. First, they carry a particular kind of sweet that I love – they call it a raspberry shortbread cookie, but to me, it will always be a Linzer Torte. Now hold on a second, all my Bronx people. It is not Webers-quality. It does not have that coma-inducing blend of light and buttery shortbread, fresh raspberry preserves and powdered sugar that makes one sing and sneeze at the same time. It is more of a mass-produced, but still tasty rendition that goes great with afternoon coffee.

These Kids Today
The bigger reason I enjoy the place is the cast and crew that staff the counter and the coffeemakers every day. It is one place in town where the younger generation is front and ce67coffee6nter on Main Street. I can truly say that every person that I have met there has been a delight to interact with and learn about. They each have a story, a dream, and an approach to life that I find encouraging. They come from different places – some are local, some are just stopping for a rest. They carry yesterday’s adventures and experiences from across the globe and harbor a determination to enter more in their life’s notebook. They may stay for a short while, or enjoy longer tenures. Some go away and come back. But each of them brings a vitality to the place. They show grace and patience as they deal with the palette of people who cram themselves into the small space, some demanding, some odd, and some who range from quirky to curmudgeonly. Shannon, Gwynn, Jesse and Robin. Ariel and the recently departed Cecily. A couple of Courtney’s and Baylee, off to college. Cameron and her sister Zoe, whose dad first helped my wife and me find a place in Cambria. Probably a bunch I have forgotten. Probably a bunch still to meet. They are all happily different and represent to me an entirely unique slice of this community. And they all know that my two-cookie order is called the “Shannon Special,” and that I enjoy a good chat.
They serve me anyway!

Telling Stories

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I was driving through town on a beautiful Monday morning, listening to the Bruce Springsteen channel on satellite radio. Youngstown, Bruce’s devastatingly accurate and stark telling of the rise and fall of the titular city, was playing. The version was from his haunting 1995 album “The Ghost of Tom Joad”, which was more of a folk/Americana record than a raucous and defiant rock barn burner.  Youngstown is Steinbeck with guitars and fiddles, even more so than the title track.

Youngstown – Original Version

As I listened, I made a mental leap to a very different telling of the same story – the version of Youngstown that appears on the Live From New York City DVD that was filmed for broadcast on HBO in 2000. Where the original has soft, insistent acoustic guitars and steady, almost shuffling accompaniment, the live version features the E Street Band at the apex of its incredible power. Where the original spools the story with melancholy and resignation, the live version spews it with a rage and denial.

In the first telling, I see a townsman sitting at the counter of the diner, both hands wrapped around the coffee cup gone cold as he tells the tale, flannel shirt over a worn t-shirt, old but still respectable jeans and work boots speaking a plain and honorable truth.

The second version reveals the same guy five years later, now seated at the dark end of the bar, hand squeezing the last drops of beer gone warm out of the brown bottle that will soon join a few too many in the bus box under the bar. Not so melancholy, not so quiet, telling anyone who wants to, or doesn’t want to hear how things were, and how things are. Rage, despair, puzzlement, and pleading done in a voice too loud, too challenging, and too painfully true. Where the original took us out with a sad and ominous violin melody, the live version exploded into the chaos and near mania of Nils Lofgren’s jaw-dropping guitar work. He grabs a beautiful melody and quickly hurls it away, replacing it with quick modal shifts and a machine-gun of notes. Each phrase sent speeding to the end of energy, and finally, exhausted, a repeating question mark of  “what has happened to my world?”

Youngstown – Live in NYC

Same words, same chords, same artist. Same story, different voices.

Local Accents

We often tell our stories based on what we want the outcome to be, and we use different voices to win the day. We do so with all the usual platitudes, like “it isn’t personal” knowing that for some it is very personal. Cambria, like many vibrant communities, is rich with stories. We are never at a loss for debates and decisions. A single simple issue rarely remains single or simple. Depending on who is telling and who is listening, and who is retelling their own version. Discuss sometimes turn to disgust. Some engage thoughtfully and positively. Others sit hawk-like on the overhead power lines, waiting for something to be turned into a meal.

Here’s One

Fire season no longer a predictable thing. Catastrophic fires and related events have been devastating large swaths of California and straining resources in every part of the state. Cambrians are being asked to fund three firefighter positions through a parcel tax. Voters will need to decide this issue and deserve to hear all sides of the equation. Here are a few duets from the greatest hits collection:

 

airquoteGOALS

 “Our goal is to continue to provide the best level of professional emergency services to the community we serve and meet the standards and objectives of fire service organizations across the country.”

“Their goal is to build an empire, take over all the emergency services, and keep the employees fat with overtime, outrageous pension benefits, and keep the union flush with dues.”

NEED 

“Cal Fire has a station in Cambria, and they respond to every call.”

“Cal Fire responds to every call when they are in the area and available, which is not always the case.”

“We get mutual aid responses from all the surrounding fire departments.”

 “Mutual aid agreements are critical to the safety of Cambria and the surrounding communities, though response times can vary and every minute is critical.”

COST

“Our goal is to create enough revenue to sustain these positions for the foreseeable future, and the tax model was built to meet that objective. Here, look at the calculations. “

“The sales pitch is built on misleading data – it is going to cost way more than they are saying – here, look at this chart!!!”

FEAR

“Their goal is to instill fear for the safety of our older citizens!!”

“Their goal is to instill economic fear and doubt among our older citizens!!”

“BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID!!!”

OR…

Go to a meeting. Read some of the information provided by all interested parties. Think about what you can afford – afford to spend, and afford to lose. What level of risk is acceptable to you? What is won or lost with a yes or no vote? Check your gut, check your heart, check your wallet and check your moral compass. There are a lot of very smart, informed and interested people who can give us the data we seek, the detail we want, and the simple facts absent spin or partisan positioning. Facts are great.  Facts delivered with conclusions attached may be less clean, but if you trust the story-teller, well that counts for something. At the end of the day, it will be you and your #2 pencil (or more likely some sort of sharpie) hovering over the ballot. You and your vote matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarity?

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NOTE: There are readers of this blog who don’t live in Cambria but are interested in the successes and challenges of people from all over this wacky planet. So, for my friends in faraway places like Hollis, New Hampshire and Mount Vernon, New York, I will try to do a zippy summary of the current situation and the recent history that brought us here. I will probably miss a thing or two, but no worries. There will be a long line of locals happy to fill in my gaps!

Let me explain. No, it is too much; let me sum up.

From “The Princess Bride”

RECAP

Cambria fire protection services evolved from an all-volunteer force to a professionally staffed and managed emergency services department that responds to all types of hazardous events. Through the evolution, the community has explored different options to staff and manage this critical function. Several years back the Cambria Community Services District, which has responsibility for the Fire Department, began exploring options that would contract out fire protection to Cal Fire, the state agency that protects much of California. They also provide different levels of local management and staffing to communities that are not in a position to provide those services themselves.

The community was split on how to proceed, so a decision was made to enter into a short-term agreement with Cal Fire to provide management of the Cambria Fire Department, giving everyone time to see if a broader and more permanent arrangement would make sense. The timing of this was right, as the Cambria Fire Chief was retiring, and Cal Fire could fill that role during the evaluation period. In the end, the CCSD determined that it was better for the community to maintain control over the Department. With good data in hand and input from the Cal Fire Chief who served as the interim leader, the board moved forward. After a series of interviews, a new Chief was appointed to lead Cambria Fire.

Moving Forward

The CFD continued on a path to modernization and standardization, using the guidelines, principles and best practices of state, regional and national firefighting organizations and regulatory agencies, such as OSHA. They moved to align with the standards for staffing, training, tools, and equipment and applied the rigorous metrics associated with those practices to measure where they were and what they needed to do to achieve those standards.

During this evolution, grant opportunities arose, and Cambria Fire was awarded a SAFER grant which provided funding to hire three additional firefighters. The addition of these three professional/career resources allowed CFD to staff the engine company with a crew of 4 – a captain, an engineer, a firefighter and a reservist. The optimum goal is to staff an engine with four career firefighters, but the reality is that is not a practical or affordable model for most smaller communities, including Cambria.

(The goal for CFD is to have four people on the engine – three career and one reserve. This has caused some confusion as the definitions used have not always been clear.  The funding proposal covers the third career firefighter; the fourth will remain a reservist position.)

The Clock Is Ticking

The grant had a life of two years, after which the funding would stop, and the cost of these firefighters would fall back to Cambria. It was expected that during the two-year period funding would be explored through the budgeting process. Cambria receives tax money from the county, with a portion of that earmarked for fire protection. Of that allocation, a part is set aside for “administration and overhead.” Over time that allocation of funds has become a bit murky, perhaps being used for other expenses. During the last budgeting cycle, CFD had budgeted for the cost of the three firefighters. However, that funding was removed as part of the Board’s decision to have a balanced budget. So, as the two-year clock moved closer to expiring, the real possibility of losing the three firefighters drove the conversation towards solving the problem. The CFD requested funding. The board looked at the budget and saw no money to fulfill the request. They determined that the most appropriate way to deal with the situation was to put it before the community in the form of a ballot measure. If approved by two-thirds of the eligible voters, a tax of $62.15 would be levied on each parcel in Cambria (with exceptions for CCSD owned and a few other parcels.) The measure is scheduled for a vote on June 5th.

The Ballot Measure along with the Pro and Con Arguments and rebuttals can be found under the heading Cambria Community Services District Special Tax, Measure A-18 HERE

Debate or Discuss?

As we roll into the second month of discussion the conversation has spread out into different areas and positions become more aggressive. Some citizens are demanding a full-on debate of the pros and cons, with representitives of each side slugging it out (respectfully) under the supervision of a neutral organization. Other citizens (including me) are looking for town-hall style informational meetings where representitives from the involved organizations can share information and take questions from the attendees, with the goal of allowing us all to make decisions based on what we hear and see. Both options have merits, and hopefully we won’t get hung up on an either-or situation.

Where’s My Lamp?

Through this all I have been trying to gather as much information and as many viewpoints as possible, and at the same time maintain my own open-mindedness and neutral position until one clear set of factors tips me one way or the other. Of course, I could also abstain from making a choice on the matter…

Yet I seem to find myself advocating for the firefighters, even though I am not convinced that their argument is the right one. It feels more like an issue of fairness than a matter of fact. And as we know, facts can be very easy to spin.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Popular line attributed to former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli

So here are some facts I’ve been able to gather from various knowledgeable sources.

Facts or Fear, or Fearsome Facts?

Responding to a request for data, Cambria Fire’s Chief Hollingsworth sent me some statistics on the number of incidents that CFD responded to between 2007 and 2017.The data represented “fire” incidents, and revealed the following:

From email of 3/5/2017 “During the above-mentioned time frame, there were 157 fire incidents within the primary response area of Cambria Fire. This averages 15.7 fire calls per year or just more than 1 per month. This excludes all automatic and mutual aid responses. Of those 157 fire incidents, they break down as follows:

  • Residential structure fires             61
  • Commercial structure fires           24
  • Wildland fires                              28
  • Vehicle fires                                15
  • Debris/other fires                         29

Of the 157 fire incidents, Cambria Fire handled 54 of them alone, with no response from Cal Fire or any other agency. Of that same number, 3 were handled solely by Cal Fire (station 10).  These 3 incidents were relatively small and occurred while Cambria Fire units were committed to other incidents.”

SO?

Good information. Hard numbers. But how then do we take that data and turn it into information? I could use it as a counter to the position that states “Cal Fire responds to EVERY call in Cambria.” Really? The data says that over the measured timeframe they, in fact, did not respond to over a third of fire calls in Cambria (or 34.39% if percentages as numbers are more dramatic.) Conversely, Cambria Fire did not respond to less than 2% of fire incidents in Cambria.

So I asked a few follow-up questions, including why there would be such a gap in response from Cal Fire, and whether the Mutual Aid agreement with Cal Fire was in place over the measured timeframe.

Chief replied, “Short answer is yes, MA agreement has been around for a long time. We are part of California Master Mutual Aid. The solo responses are most likely based upon necessity. For instance, an oven fire or dryer fire may only get units from our agency. A small roadside spot fire may only get one unit. Additionally, some of those may be single resource responses from our agency because there was no assistance available from station 10, and other MA responders were canceled because they were not needed. However, there is no way as to discern the difference.”

So there are the facts, and there is the information on those facts.

More Fun With Facts

I had a similar experience with the Cal Fire management team responsible for staffing and manpower, and more particularly the process for ensuring that Cal Fire Station 10 was always manned, thereby providing the critical backup and support to Cambria Fire.

First, I called station 10 and spoke with the duty captain. I asked him about how the “move up and cover” process worked, and if Station 10 was left uncovered for extended periods. He was very cordial but said he really couldn’t give me a reliable answer as Station 10 was not his primary assignment. He suggested I call down to the offices in SLO to get more specifics.

Hailed To The Chief

I reached out to the office of Chief Scott Jalbert, the person responsible for managing the resources for Cal Fire in San Luis Obispo. I had a lovely conversation with Janet, a member of the Chief’s staff, who listened to my request for data, asked clarifying questions, and committed to getting me answers. She called me back later the same day and provided me with basic information related to Station 10 calls and responses for 2017. In summary, the numbers showed that Station 10 responded to 796 calls. Of the 796, 545 calls were specific to Cambria. This leaves 251 calls that took them away from the Cambria area.

I asked Janet about the process that Cal Fire uses to ensure that Station 10, which is designated as a “Must Cover” station, is adequately manned. She shared a high-level view of the move up and cover process, and when asked said the gap time generally fell between 15 and 40 minutes, depending on where the covering engine was coming from.

Sensing my skepticism, she offered to connect me directly to Chief Jalbert.

Tell Me More

When he came on the line, I explained again what I was calling about and why. He graciously walked me through in more detail the process of move up and cover, using a cul-de-sac analogy to demonstrate the rotation they follow. He also repeated the 15 – 40-minute timeframe to get a cover engine up to Cambria. Still skeptical (having driven from various places in the county where these cover engines would come from, while also realizing that my driving skill is so weak that Mr. Magoo shakes his head in disbelief) I asked a few more questions. One main one – ok, if 15-40 minutes is the range of time you use, how often are those times met? Meaning, how many move up and cover engines actually got to Cambria within that range? It turns out that number isn’t tracked, so I don’t know if it always happens, never happens, or somewhere in between. Does the percentage really matter? Well, sure, if the assumption is that Cal Fire is always here, or they will always be here almost right away.

I also asked him about the assertion that replacement crews can come from farther away, including other counties throughout California. He agreed that it could indeed happen, but it would be a highly unusual circumstance where all hell was breaking loose across the state, and things were unfolding in a rapid and unpredictable way. Like the Thomas Fire. Or the Chimney Fire. Or the Santa Rosa Fire, or the Montecito mudslides, or…

Staffing 

We also had a brief discussion on staffing and in particular volunteers and reservists. He chuckled and said, ” I’m working on my PowerPoint as we speak, talking about the challenges I face in staffing all the areas we are responsible for, including Los Osos.” All the fire services on the central coast are facing the same problem of finding, training hiring and retaining capable personnel. And they are all pulling from the same resource pool. The Central Coast is an expensive place to live, and the range of coverage types complicates the issue. Volunteers, as known in the past, don’t exist anymore in this area. Multiple departments, including Cal Fire, use reservists, who are trained as level 1 firefighters, to fill staffing gaps. They are contracted in different ways, including scheduled paid shift, on-call, and emergency call out. Many of these folks work other jobs, and may or may not be available to respond. They may also have to choose between their primary job(s) or respond as firefighters, often at an hourly wage that is below what they get through other employment. This problem continues to exist and grow and has been documented and confirmed by multiple fire department leaders from Cal Fire to Morro Bay to Chief Hollingsworth.

Here’s a link to a recent news report on KSBY.

Additional reporting by Karen Garcia of New Times on the state of firefighting support for neighboring Cayucos HERE

Miles To Go

So we have the numbers, and we have the “color.” I’ll just add a brief anecdote; when I relayed the 15-40 minute coverage data to a CFD member, the response was basically “OK, but I can tell you that just today Cambria Fire covered all of Station 10’s area as they were out of service. Since they were not on an official call, there was no move up and cover engine.”

To borrow a device that is being used to argue against the measure, I will now deploy what I think of as a “syllogistic hanging chad.” Leave the ominous questions out there, causing people to get really nervous about what might happen. Aristotle wept.

Are non-call activities that take Station 10 out of service for an extended time – be it one hour or 4, tracked and managed? Or are there informal practices and agreements to mutually cover that are normal operational events that work both ways? Does it matter? Only if during one of these times something goes boom and there are bald spots in critical coverage…

Brotherhood

One final note on Cal Fire – every member of the service I spoke with was unfailingly polite, willing to answer all my questions and give the best information they had to offer. They all spoke well of Cambria Fire, and they all expressed a real reluctance to become embroiled in any of the politics around the issue. They, like the CFD members, are focused on protecting the communities they serve, and protecting each other from the dangers, physical and otherwise, they face in a tough and unrelenting environment.

Every member of the Cambria Fire Department, from the Chief to the reservists, have been equally polite and committed to open and honest discussion. This really is as local as an issue gets, and while the firefighters are members of a union, this isn’t a union battle.

It would be great if we didn’t turn this into a divide or pit either fire service against the other.

Bits and Pieces

Interesting guidelines that cover Cal Fire”s responsibilities under a cooperative fire protection agreement.

http://calfireweb.fire.ca.gov/library/handbooks/8500/8554.pdf

GUIDELINES 8554.3

(No. 137 May 2017)

  1. When considering potential Amador Plan cooperative fire protection agreements under PRC §4144, the following guidelines will be used:
  2. The efficiency of ofCALFire’s fire protection system in its primary mission of wildland fire protection, as well as response to major fires or other natural disasters will not be reduced or impaired. CAL Fire’s ability to assign fire protection resources to areas of the state during periods of critical fire weather or major fires shall receive priority over agreements made with local entities pursuant to PRC §4144.
  3. CAL FIRE resources and personnel will be assigned, in accordance with PRC §4144(c), to provide the most efficient protection for both the state and local mission.
  4. Each applicant must submit a statement of fire protection need to the Unit Chief that will include a map that delineates the area to be protected. This statement of need will be submitted to the Director with the initial request for service. A copy will be retained in the Unit file.

Cal Fire Station 10 website

Cambria Fire website