Tahoe Douglas fire district faces housing challenges for chief | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe Douglas fire district faces housing challenges for chief

by Timothy Bowman

Most people prefer not to live at work, but some have to.

The Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District Board of Trustees heard arguments Monday about the residency requirements of the district fire chief at the Round Hill Fire Station.

The issue has come to the forefront since the chief of the last five years, Tim Smith, plans to retire within the next year and a half. The Tahoe Douglas chief is required to live in the district by order of the department rules and regulations.

President of the Tahoe Douglas Firefighter’s Association, Leo Horton, said that maintaining residency requirements for the fire chief would eliminate upward mobility within the department, because only about one-third of Tahoe Douglas firefighters live in the basin because of the high cost of housing.

“We’ve had a long-held philosophy of promoting through the ranks,” Horton said. “We will reach the point that we will not have the people living in the district to promote to those positions. Every time we hire out of the district, we stifle the career of three to four people in the department. The last thing we want to do is tell people that if we hire them they will never be fire chief if they don’t live in the district.”

Some residents voiced concerns that not having the chief as a member of the community could have an adverse effect on fire safety in the district.

“I think under the present conditions of semi-drought, having the managing people over 30 minutes away is a bad idea,” said Jodi Nelson.

Supporters of maintaining the residency requirement for the fire chief proposed providing a department owned home or a stipend for the chief to allow them to live at the lake. This option faced criticism on the grounds that the taxpayers may be unwilling to pay the fire chief’s housing costs.

“One of the concerns that this board has is, if it becomes necessary to establish a housing stipend are (the taxpayers) willing to pay the individual to live here $1,500 or $2,000 a month,” said Fire Board Member Mike Francoeur.

Others are concerned that providing a housing stipend would only solve the problem in the short term because housing prices in the Tahoe basin are likely to increase over time. Should Tahoe Douglas residents commit to a stipend to keep the fire chief in the district they would be forced to pay more over the years to maintain the chief’s residency.

“It needs to be looked at for the long term,” said Guy LeFever. “Five years or 10 years from now we are going to have to address the issue, or we are going to have to buy a home or provide an additional stipend.”

Carl Paulson of the Tahoe Douglas General Improvement District said keeping the fire chief at the lake is important for more than just safety reasons.

“From the point of familiarity, if the chief is living in (the district) they are going to be familiar not only with the fire district but also with the other political entities,” Paulson said. “It is important to know when you are in a community and you are the fire chief to know who the political players are. Also when suddenly a large emergency occurs it is nice to have the leader of the department in close proximity.”

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