Lack of funding may force Big Bear Fire Department to shut down one of its fire stations

SUGARLOAF, Calif (KABC) -- The Big Bear Fire Department could soon close its Sugarloaf station, which is one of the four fire stations in the Big Bear Valley. It's an effort to balance its budget, which has been operating in the red for years.

Sugarloaf is made up of around 2,000 people, many of whom are elderly. So the thought of losing their fire station right around the corner is a big worry for people like Patrice Duncan.

"I have a neighbor behind me who is part time, but she's in a wheelchair. In a medical emergency every minute counts," said Duncan.

But Duncan's not just worried about the medical side of things, because when you live in the forest, a simple grass fire can spread quickly to the towering pines, just like it did in this area back in 2007. That fire ripped through 14,000 acres, but Duncan fears something even worse.

"This could become another Paradise, California," Duncan said.

The wind driven Camp Fire devastated Paradise in Northern California in November 2018, burning more than 153,000 acres. There were 85 fatalities.

To be sure, CALFIRE, the Forest Service and San Bernardino County Fire can and would still respond if there's a big fire, but it's that quick, first response from local fire stations that can make all the difference.
Engineer paramedic Andrew Crane works out of the Sugarloaf station. He says the area is already understaffed. And he says they're being told that unless they can come up with more money, this station could close within months.

"Right now we have limited staff, we're getting it done, but it's just not enough," said Crane.

The Big Bear Fire Department sent Eyewitness News a statement that read in part: "At issue is the continuous need to spend reserves to fund the five staffed stations and the entire operation. On March 20, 2018 the governing board, through consensus discussion, decided to operate within a balanced budget. To do so requires the closure of a fire station.
"The Sugarloaf station that was selected for closure was based on its geographic location within the service area. This allows the remaining fire stations to best service the entire jurisdiction including the Sugarloaf community.

"The community justifiably wants a 4-minute response time, but not everyone wants to finance to that level. This is a community discussion and a community issue. At this point, we are not sure what level the community is willing to fund. But we are working towards a tax measure in the form of a Community Facilities District to be before the voters by March of 2020."

That would mean raise taxes, on both residents and possibly visitors. Residents could have assessments placed on parcels, visitors could be required to pay additional fees on any number of things, including hotel rooms, ski-lift tickets and boat rentals.

The exact specifics of that plan have yet to be worked out.
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