SPARKS — Tom Dunn lives in a house in Spanish Springs with his wife and three-year-old toddler. He worries. Not as a firefighter with the Reno Fire Department, but as a father and a husband.
He knows too much about the risk of leaving his young child and wife home alone in the rural community, following the recent divorces within Washoe County of fire districts and the plans to draw down fire crews within the stations that surround his home.
Today, Dunn’s family home is surrounded by four fire stations. Three are Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District or Sierra Sire Protection District stations and one is Sparks Station 41.
Sparks Fire Department currently has a district policy to only man their engines with three crew members.
“It’s a policy decision for our city and our department,” said Sparks Fire Chief Andy Flock.
Three-member crews cannot enter a burning home unless someone confirms there is a victim inside. This could mean an unconscious victim is inside and the crew is unaware. Federal safety standards restrict fire crews from allowing three-man crews from allowing a crew member to enter unless there are special circumstances.
“If there is no confirmed potential victim in the house, the fire crew would stay outside as my home burned and watch as it doubled in size every minute,” Dunn said. “All they could do is keep the fire off the houses next door to me because they cannot enter if there is no confirmed victims inside the house.”
The other stations, at this time, have four-man crews.
“Last fall, there was a structure fire down the street, The first arriving engine was from Sparks (station 41),” Dunn said. “They had to sit outside the house because there was no confirmed victim. They had to sit there and watch that house burn until another crew arrived.”
Three-man crews will arrive on scene more often in the Spanish Springs and surrounding Sparks regional areas with this week’s decision by Washoe County Board of Commissioners to stand-up the Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, hiring Fire Chief Charles Moore Tuesday, and attempt to merge it with the Sierra Fire Protection District. The change to resurrect the TMFPD will go into full effect July 1. Crew staffing will change, bringing numbers from four-man to three-man.
According to Kurt Latipow, Washoe County Fire Services Coordinator, the staffing plan, presented in October to Washoe County Commissioners, acting as the new Truckee Meadows Fire Board, asks for minimum staffing throughout the district.
Minimum staffing will be three-man crews in the area, Latipow said. But, it won’t be below that. And, depending on vacations or if the fire chief feels there is a need for more protection, some stations might have better protection at times, he said.
“Spanish Springs has an excellent auto aid agreement with Sparks and they have a station right there,” Latipow said. “They also have the Sun Valley Station.”
Sparks Fire District will present a draft for review in about two weeks to the TMFPD and SFPD and other districts throughout the state to redo automatic aid agreements, something that hasn’t been done in many years, Latipow said.
This also concerns Dunn.
“The other part is, Sparks is within 10 minutes from my house,” he said. “There is no guarantee come July 1, the City of Sparks will be providing auto aid to TMFPD as well. Currently an agreement is in place. With this deconsolidation, or divorce, there is no guarantee a station is going to be even manned. If there is a fire somewhere else in TMFPD could be fighting a fire somewhere else.”
Dunn said he will be more cautious in the future considering the current uncertain status of area fire districts.
“I’m definitely going to be more proactive around my house and make sure all of the windows are operating properly, I have smoke detectors and we change the batteries in those twice a year. We make sure all of our fire extinguishers are maintained and changed,” Dunn said. “It’s disconcerting as a taxpayer that truly my level of service I pay for is going to go down,” Dunn said. “Not only on the fire side, but also on the emergency medical side as well.”