ORANGE COVE – The Orange Cove Fire Protection District (District) has not had a good year with respect to funding or finding a location to build a new facility.
At the Nov. 8 Orange Cove City Council meeting, Chief Tom Greenwood informed the council of the collapse of a deal – it should be noted that council was unaware of both the deal and its demise – that he had been working on for six months with Bell-Carter Foods. At stake was a vacant property owned by Bell-Carter, which the company had agreed to donate to the District for the site of its new firehouse.
“But somewhere in the working of getting that property, the gentlemen in charge of it got sick with COVID,” Greenwood said.
Greenwood said when the individual recovered, he went on vacation, and when the individual returned from vacation, Greenwood could not meet him because he, himself, had contracted COVID. After this, Greenwood said emails and phone calls slowly dried up.
“I didn’t want to push the envelope,” he said. “We didn’t have the money (to build) yet. And the property had sat vacant for years.”
For its current station, Greenwood said the District shares its facility with the Orange Cove Police Department. The situation is less than ideal.
“Right now, we share one building with the police department,” said Greenwood. “We are stumbling over the top of each other. We do not have the right restrooms for men and women. We have no decontamination areas for cleanup after calls. We’ve basically living in a little shell of a metal building.”
The District has 30 employees, including 25 paid-call firefighters. It owns nine pieces of fire apparatus and covers 42 square miles in Fresno County and 22 square miles in Tulare County. The District responds to calls in Orosi, Cutler and Dinuba and to all structural fires in Reedley.
RENDER UNTO THE DISTRICT WHAT IS THE DISTRICT’S
Eventually, Bell-Carter did reach out regarding the property. But it reached out to the city, not to the District. Greenwood was not involved in the negotiations; Bell-Carter donated the property to the city.
Now, Greenwood wants the city to donate it to the District.
“I ask you to consider and see if you can come together as a council. Do what’s right for the district,” Greenwood told the council.
Before negotiations fell through, Greenwood said there had been progress. The District had secured $350,000 in funding. He is working with Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula and Senator Anna Caballero to secure the $7 million the District was set to receive from the state.
Greenwood also informed the council the Bell-Carter property was ideal for the District’s needs.
“There are two points of entry,” said Greenwood. “And room for fuel tanks and a training facility.”
The council approved a property behind the skate park, but Greenwood said the logistics are bad for the District.
“It is too close to the high school and junior high school,” he said. “With all those kids, our response time would be damaged. You get a non-breather on this side of town? Trying to get through all that traffic? Three to four minutes. That’s the difference right there.”
SACRAMENTO DROPPED THE BALL
Fortune has not favored the District with respect to building a new fire station. At the Oct. 11 council meeting, Greenwood informed the council that the $7 million the District hoped to receive to build a new fire station was not coming.
According to Greenwood, it was Sacramento that dropped the ball.
“We’ve been working with Senator Hurtado for two years on getting money through her office to build a new fire station,” Greenwood said. “Last year, we were approved the $4 million of the $7 million. When Sacramento approved the money, it was approved to the city of Orange Cove, not the Orange Cove Fire Protection District.”
Greenwood went on to explain that Orange Cove has never had a fire department and that the District is a separate entity. This nuance was lost on Sacramento.
“Sacramento…they were not understanding the difference between the split with us. We are a fire district. When they see Orange Cove in front of the name, they automatically assume it is Orange Cove Fire Department,” Greenwood said.
When asked if it was surprising that, apparently, no one processing the funding application made the distinction, Greenwood conceded he was perplexed.
“I’m not sure how that happened,” he said. “When we questioned it and went back to get it put in the fire district’s name, it caused so much confusion in Sacramento they ended up pulling the money. The city didn’t get it and the fire district didn’t get it. We basically lost the funding until we could get this figured out.”
The funding was not only a victim of semantics; realignment also played a role.
“The senate districts were realigned,” said Greenwood. “Senator Hurtado was the senator for the city of Orange Cove and the Fresno County portion of Orange Cove. Her new area became Tulare County. We are a split fire district. We cover Tulare County and Fresno County.”
The District is now split between Hurtado’s district and Caballero’s district.
“On the very last day when they were going to turn in this paperwork, Hurtado’s office decided it should go through Senator Caballero’s office,” Greenwood said. He said the District must now begin the process anew with Caballero’s office.
Greenwood said the District should have the paperwork done with Caballero’s office by the end of this year. However, the District did not come up empty handed. Hurtado’s office turned in a request for and received $350,000. Of course, the money was earmarked for the city.
“It will be going to the city of Orange Cove and the city will pass the money through to us so we can start the project,” Greenwood said. He added the money will go towards planning and permits for the new fire station.
Greenwood said he expects the total construction cost for the new facility will be closer to $10 million.
“We can build a bare bones station to get us by for $7 million; we can build the station we want to take us into the future for $10 million,” he said.