As budgets continue to get slashed across the U.S., many fire departments are also feeling the heat. Even states with extreme fire danger are no exception. A recent article from online news source MercuryNews.com calls out newly-elected California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to cutback CalFire engine crews. This state budget cut will shift more responsibility to already burdened cities and counties.
What I found most interesting in this decision, however, was the reason that the Governor’s office gave for making the proposed budget cut. According to the article, “The reason the state should hand over responsibility for some of its wildland fire fighting is because local governments have in recent decades approved development throughout rural areas of the state, Brown's budget says. And with that building in high-fire-prone areas, counties have created a situation where CalFire responds to more than 50,000 emergency calls a year, many for medical problems that the agency was not originally designed to address.”
My other research into this topic reveals that California was recently poised to pass fire prevention, protection and land use laws designed to lower firefighting costs. Some of these proposed laws shifted part of the fire prevention and protection responsibility to homeowners in high hazard areas. Unfortunately, these laws were not passed, and as a result it seems that Governor Brown’s decision will turn out to be more of a punishment than an opportunity for fundamental changes.
Nevertheless, this link between development decisions and budget cuts may set an interesting precedent. As a professional hazard mitigation planner, I have long been advocating for a greater connection between local land use planning decisions and the question of who pays for disasters or other emergencies. This is a complex subject with many facets. I’d welcome your thoughts on whether you think it is appropriate for state government agencies to make this type of budget cut based on development decisions.
(photo source: Reuters)