With chief retiring, officials mull future of small Tahoe fire district
February 10, 2014
ABOUT THE DISTRICT
• Formed in 1961, the Meeks Bay Fire District extends from the El Dorado/Placer County border to the northern boundary of D.L. Bliss State Park, with a small portion of Emerald Bay; approximately 2,100 parcels — about 1,500 of which are “improved” (have structures) — reside within.
• It’s one of the smallest fire district in the basin and provides fire protection, emergency medical service, and search-and-rescue operations with El Dorado County.
MEEKS BAY, Calif. — Consolidation and contracting for services are among future options a small Lake Tahoe fire district is considering in light of the impending departure of its longtime leader.
After 19 years as Meeks Bay Fire Protection District chief and nearly 34 in fire service, John Pang will retire on April 4.
"It's been a great experience," Pang said during a Monday interview in his office. "I've learned a lot, seen a lot, and hopefully, I've been able to make a little bit of a difference to better improve public safety in the Tahoe area."
Pang's retirement comes at a time when several other district leaders will be eligible to retire in the next few years.
"It's a big turning point for us," said Ed Miller, president of the district's board of directors.
As a result, the board is considering options, including consolidation with North Tahoe Fire Protection District, Lake Valley Fire Protection District or the city of South Lake Tahoe; contracting for services, including for an interim chief; and maintaining status quo by hiring a new chief.
Fireforce One, an Elk Grove, Calif.-based consultant company headed by former State Fire Marshal Ron Coleman, will help the district in the process. The board hired the firm in November for a minimum of $6,000, Pang said.
"This is the single most important decision this board has had to make in 20 years," Miller said. "We have to do our due diligence."
Areas being examined include finances, public and district input, and service levels.
The district responds to between 140 and 200 calls a year, with a majority coming in the summer months when the area's population swells, Pang said. The value of the property it protects is approximately $780 million, he added.
The district's annual budget is between $1.2 million and $1.4 million, and for the past three years, it has run at an annual deficit between $75,000 and $125,000 due to a funding shortfall from El Dorado County, Pang said.
MBFPD has nine full-time employees and five part-time employees, not including unpaid volunteers. In 2013, Pang's salary was $134,721, according to the district.
"I hope that the district continues … to provide an excellent level of service to the public, with the words progressive and responsive," Pang said. "I think it can be done in a number of ways."
A decision on how to move forward will be made this month, Miller said.
"Whether (that's) permanent or temporary is yet to be seen," he said.
During Pang's tenure, Meeks Bay Fire started a defensible space program, created financial reserves, and extended public communication through its FireWatch newsletter and visits to homeowner's associations, Miller said.
"It's been a whirlwind," Pang said. "… Things have changed a lot. We've seen some very big paradigm shifts in the basin, which has been great."
One of those shifts has been greater interagency cooperation among districts.
Yet, at the same time, the number of "hats" a fire chief is expected to wear has increased, ranging from political to fiscal, Pang said. In addition, the number of mandates and requirements for fire services have increased.
"I've been doing this for a long time, and I have a lot of other things in life that I want to catch up with," he said. "… There's a lot of things, unfortunately, that get put on the side burner when you do a job like this."
As part of his retirement, Pang plans to spend more time with his family and participate more in sports such as running, skiing and tennis.
He also plans on staying involved in fire service.
"It's been in my blood for a longtime," he said. "… Just because we retire doesn't mean we turn off the radio and close our eyes to public safety."
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