CALAVERAS COUNTY — As we enter fire season, many rural counties across California are facing a big problem: they don't have enough firefighters and can't pay the ones they do have.
Some residents in Calaveras County are trying to convince their neighbors that a small tax could make a big difference.
This small Calaveras Consolidated Fire Protection District is all that stands in the way of a spark and the next big blaze.
"I have sleepless nights," said Chief Richard Dickinson.
Chief Dickinson oversees the district, but he has a big problem: he can't pay his staff enough.
"I'm going to use Starbucks. They have a better pay scale than us. They provide benefits," he said, and later added, "over seven years, I've lost approximately 40 firefighters that went to the Bay Area."
Dana Nichols is part of an initiative trying to get a measure on the ballot that would add a 1% sales tax in the county. That money would go to helping agencies like Chief Dickinson's — there are 10 of them in the county. He said some fire stations aren't even manned 24/7.
"So what happens is somebody who's a volunteer at home has a pager like I do on their hip," Nichols said. "And that'll go off and then they're going to go from their home to the station and then get on the engine and then go to the fire."
One fire station in Calaveras County is staffed 24/7 but they're one of the lucky ones. Another fire station just down the road had to close about 10 years ago because there just wasn't enough money.
"I have a simple question for the community: when it's your worst day for your family or loved one, do you want a fire engine pulling up out front to help you?" Dickinson said. "We need your support."
The question is are people in Calaveras County up for "another" tax hike?
"I totally sympathize with them because I pay a lot of taxes, too," Nichols said. "But I'm a property owner and for me, it's worth it to pay a few hundred dollars in sales tax vs not having my fire engine staffed."
The group trying to get the tax measure on the ballot is currently gathering signatures and has until the end of August to meet its goal.
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