Tue09162014

News

At 75 years, fire district prepares for future


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
For the first time in the Los Altos Hills County Fire District’s 75-year history, two women serve in the top leadership roles – Debbie Dexter as vice president, left, and Duffy Price as president.

The Santa Clara County Fire Department responded to 19 fires in and around Los Altos Hills last year, arriving on scene quickly and efficiently extinguishing the blazes.

The department is contracted by the Los Altos Hills County Fire District to provide such services for town residents and those living in the incorporated areas of Loyola, Los Trancos Woods and San Antonio. The seven-member Los Altos Hills County Fire District Board of Commissioners oversees the district, which has its share of challenges – from topography to the network of private roads. Board members are volunteers appointed for four years by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Established by the county board in 1939, the district commission is empowered to establish, equip and maintain the fire department. Tasks include guiding emergency response, water resource maintenance, fuel management and disaster preparedness services.

With no full-time staff and only several part-time contractors, the board is responsible for securing the services that protect lives and property in the community. With the exception of litigation, members of the board have full autonomy in determining how property taxes collected from residents are allocated.

“We have no debt, and want to keep it that way,” fire district board president Duffy Price said of the commission’s commitment to responsible stewardship.

Preparing for the future

For the first time in the district’s 75-year history, two women serve on the board. A 10-year board member, Price became president of the fire district in January. Appointed to the board in October, Debbie Dexter, a fifth-generation resident of the unincorporated area, serves as vice president.

Price has run nine successful campaigns for members of the Los Altos Hills City Council.

Motivated by her experience in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Price has played a role in preparing the town for natural disasters. She served on the fire district board in 2005 when it established an emergency preparedness program and hired a part-time coordinator.

Price said residents frequently cite emergency preparedness training as among the most valuable entitlements as a town taxpayer. Skills acquired during the preparedness programs are not only applicable in natural disasters, but also in other emergency situations. More than 1,300 residents have participated in the free Community Emergency Response Team and Personal Emergency Preparedness classes.

To ensure the district’s long-term viability as leadership rotates on and off the board, Price and Dexter noted that succession planning, ensuring fiscal responsibility and sustaining and improving core services are top priorities in their four-year terms. The fire district plans to educate more residents in the unincorporated areas about the available services and resources.

With the addition of unincorporated area resident Melvin Vaughn to the fire district this month, the district moves closer to reaching all residents. With 27 years of experience as a firefighter and battalion chief, Vaughn brings relevant expertise to the board.

The Los Altos Hills County Fire District Board of Commissioners meets 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at the El Monte Fire Station, 12355 S. El Monte Road. For more information, visit lahcfd.org.

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