As Cayucos tries to dissolve its fire department and pass emergency response duties over to San Luis Obispo County, it faces a staffing shortage that makes it difficult to respond to some emergency calls.
- PHOTO BY PETER JOHNSON
- NO CHIEF The Cayucos Fire Department faces a staffing shortage as it hobbles toward dissolution.
Cayucos Fire Protection District board President Steve Beightler said the board was notified one day before its Oct. 5 meeting that the department was unable to operate its fire engine every day of the week. The department does not have a consistent engine operator, he said, therefore the department can't guarantee consistent coverage.
"We are in the process of finding staff for that position. If there is an emergency, there are agencies that can help respond such as Cal Fire and the Morro Bay Fire Department," Beightler said.
Morro Bay Fire Chief Steve Knuckles said that his fire department is in a mutual aid agreement with fire departments in the county from Los Osos to Hearst Castle.
"If there is a land or structure fire, we could go in as a secondary response to assist the agency in need. We're not the first responders," Knuckles said.
The Cayucos Fire Department will be considered the first responder in Cayucos until it successfully completes the dissolution process. If the first response agency determines that it needs assistance or additional resources, it makes the call for mutual aid. But before a secondary agency like Morro Bay's can answer that call, it must ensure that there are enough firefighters to answer a potential fire emergency within Morro Bay's city limits.
Because of this, Knuckles said his department isn't obligated to respond to an emergency call from another area, although he added that he's never turned one down.
The Cayucos Fire Department is also short a fire chief. In early July, former Chief Mike Minetti announced his retirement after 46 years with the department. The district found its replacement with retired Cal Fire Chief John Richardson, who started Oct. 1 and quit on Oct. 4.
Beightler said Richardson's departure was discussed during the closed session portion of the board meeting so he couldn't comment.
He did say that the department has a volunteer assistant fire chief whose hours vary, "when he's available out of his regular" day job.
Cayucos is still in the beginning stages of working with the county to formulate a level of service for its community. In July, the district voted to submit an application of dissolution to Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and to give the department to the county. This decision came after the district could no longer fund its department, which was run with reserve volunteer firefighters and antiquated infrastructure.
The next step is to move the application over to the SLO County Board of Supervisors and the Cayucos Fire Protection District for consideration. The Cayucos fire district's application is up for discussion at LAFCO's Oct. 19 meeting.