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Pala Tribe and OES sign fire department mutual aid agreement

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The Pala Fire Department has mutual aid agreements with other nearby fire departments but never had a formal mutual aid agreement with the state Office of Emergency Services until July 20, when state and Tribal officials signed a document at the Pala fire station.

The agreement allows for state reimbursement to the Tribe which finances the fire department and also provides a Type III brush engine for use by the reservation fire department. The agreement is the first between the state and any Indian tribe.

"This is a momentous accomplishment for our tribe, our fire department and the entire community," said Pala Tribal Chairman Robert Smith.

"This is historic for all of California," said OES Director Nancy Ward.

"It's historic, obviously, but it bolsters Pala's participation, bolsters the fire and mutual aid system," said OES Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Marshall.

Smith, Ward and Marshall signed the document. Pala Tribal Council Vice-Chair and Pala Fire Chief Anthony Ravago noted that fire department mutual aid agreements with the state have existed since 1950. "It took 72 years to get a tribe to be on there," Ravago said.

"This is the first time a tribe has entered into an agreement like this with the State of California, and we are proud to be leading the way," Smith said. "We are setting new standards."

Pala has had a fire department since 1978 and has had advanced life support paramedics since 2006. Not including administration, the Pala Fire Department currently has 27 personnel, allowing for three shifts with nine members per shift. Not including the state-owned vehicle, the fire department has two Type III brush engines, two Type I engines for structural fire, a water tender and a water resource unit along with utility vehicles. The fire department contracts for ambulance service. Not including mutual aid, the Pala Fire Department area is approximately 13,000 acres, or just over 20 square miles.

"They're trained personnel and should be part of the mutual aid agreement," said State Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, who also spoke July 20.

"Today goes a long way to recognize all the tribal firefighters," Waldron said. "I'm tremendously appreciative of all the teamwork."

In the event mutual aid is needed to fight a wildfire, Pala firefighting personnel on their shift will use the state-supplied vehicle. Firefighters from other shifts will be called to staff the station in the absence of those on the strike team, and the Tribe will be reimbursed for the additional personnel on duty.

"It's been in the works for years," Ravago said. "We made this possible."

OES has more than 270 fire engines throughout the state. "We're leaving no stone unturned to ensure we have an innovative and novel approach to emergency response," Ward said.

The National Wildfire Coordinating Group consists of representatives from various Federal agencies along with the National Association of State Foresters. The group's standards for a Type III engine include a water tank capacity of at least 500 gallons and a flow of at least 150 gallons per minute at a pressure of 250 pounds per square inch.

Pala and OES leaders look forward to Pala being the first but not the only tribe to have a formal mutual aid agreement with OES. "The Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Tribal chairman, the fire chief are leading the way for other tribes," Ward said. "It's a process, but we are counting on other tribes to follow in Pala's footsteps."


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