California Fire Station Closes Following Budget Cuts


Jan. 14--HESPERIA -- As of 8 a.m. today, the city has four fire stations instead of five.

"Taking down the pictures on the walls, that's when it really hit a lot of us," said Eric Sherwin, spokesman for the San Bernardino County Fire Department and part of the Station 301 crew. "There's a reason why the station's been open for more than 50 years. It's needed."

Officials decided to close Fire Station 301 on 11th Avenue after voters rejected Measure F, a five-year, $85 parcel tax. The Hesperia Fire District is primarily funded by property tax revenue. Property tax revenue has dropped 24 percent over the past three years, forcing the city to drain its reserves to keep fire service at the previous level.

Some 80 percent of voters resoundingly rejected Measure F. City officials insisted there was no way Hesperia could keep funding fire services as they were, so Hesperia City Manager Mike Podegracz met with county Fire Department officials to find a way of cutting the equivalent of nine firefighters from the city's contracted service.

Nine firefighter positions have been cut from the city's contract: three fire captains, three engineers and three firefighter/paramedics, all of whom have found positions elsewhere in the county's fire stations, according to Sherwin.

Capt. Bret Henry said he told the city that he did not believe shuttering a station or the other option -- going to twomen crews -- were viable resolutions.

"The decision to close the station was 100 percent the city's alone," Henry said.

T h e c l o s u re w i l l impact response times, Sherwin said, and some residents and businesses along Main Street will now have to wait longer for a response.

"When you used to be two blocks away and now you have to wait for an engine from 2 miles away, response time will be affected," he said.

Sherwin added that fire officials will continue to work hard for the citizens of Hesperia and to overcome the gap.

Station 301 officially opened in 1957, according to fire officials. Before then, Hesperia was protected by Cal Fire. A fire during the federal agency's off-season led city officials to find a more permanent solution. That is when a full-time fire engineer was assigned to the small station.

According to the city of Hesperia, Station 301 handled more than 2,700 calls a year, 75 percent of them being medical calls.

The closure of Hesperia's oldest fire station trims $752,000 off the Fire District's $ 9. 2 million budget this budget year and is expected to save the district $1.4 million in future years.

Station 301 's fire engine will be used as a reserve fire engine in Hesperia. Paramedic ambulance 301 has been moved to Station 305 on Caliente Road in Hesperia.