Monday, 10 May 2021

Flesch: Lakeport Fire budget problems not made known to public until 11th hour

Prior to a handful of recent news articles, I was unaware that the Lakeport Fire District was in such financial dire straits.

Knowing the unquestionable need for first responders, I immediately began inquiring about this crisis. As a private citizen of Lakeport, I know the struggles that are faced trying to stay afloat in unpredictable times. This however is a bit different.

It’s one thing to not know where money is coming from for wider sidewalks, paved streets, a manicured park, etc.; it’s another to not have money for an entity like the Lakeport Fire District that provides life-saving services to the community. After all, we can live without wider sidewalks but many cannot live without first responders.

On Tuesday night I attended a special meeting held by the Lakeport Fire Protection District Board where its biggest topic was its financial crisis.

To my utter dismay and shock, the meeting started with a motion and vote to cut three full-time staff members.

It was only after voting to approve the cuts that the board opened the floor to public comment. Wait … huh? Shouldn’t the public have a right to be heard before the vote?

The board members clearly had their minds made up and were closed to any possibility that something may have been said during public comment to postpone the vote.

In fact, one of the board members stated that he did not “think” that the county would agree to another extension. Given the gravity of the situation, the board member should have “known” prior to the vote. Again, lives are at stake with this decision.

What this means and what was not highly publicized prior to the recent news articles is that, at any given time, the Lakeport Fire Department will be able to respond to only one emergency at a time.

So, it’s only natural to ask yourself, if two people are having an emergency at the same time, who gets priority? Which elderly citizen will receive life-saving measures during a medical emergency and which one will not?

To add insult to injury, I believe it was clear that although this financial emergency had been known for quite some time, the board did not start working on a game plan until March of this year.

When I personally inquired why this emergency was not brought to our attention earlier, I was told in essence that their books are always readily available and more or less that I should have inquired into their financial situation prior to learning about this mess. Yes, the board had the audacity to suggest that it is the citizen’s responsibility to go door to door to each and every city agency and inquire about their financial status!

To not properly manage and fund a medical crisis is abhorrent. I do not claim to have the answers and I appreciate the challenges that the board faces. My issue is that, at the end of the day, the citizens were not made aware of this issue until the 11th hour, when it was too late.

Had I known of this issue, it would have been my absolute pleasure to assist in whatever way possible.

I appreciate that some of the board members have lived and breathed the fire department for decades. I am certain that each and every one of them cares for the community and its safety.

This writing is not meant to disparage anybody. However, I would be remiss not to help bring this very important mess to light. It has become far too common for us to be reactionary and not proactive. Very few things can be won where only defense is being played.

This crisis reaches far beyond Lakeport. There is no question that the entire county will feel the effects of this disaster. Outside agencies will undoubtedly be asked to provide back-up responders to fill the void created by the board’s decision.

This means that the limited resources of surrounding areas like Kelseyville and Upper Lake will be left more vulnerable as their first responders are forced to abandon their communities to fill in for the inadequately staffed Lakeport Fire District.

I just hope that it will not be at the expense of people’s lives and safety.

Danny Flesch lives in Lakeport, Calif.

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