By Jesse B. Gill Staff Writer
Posted: 02/25/2011 05:24:31 PM PST

HIGHLAND – The city will soon make the switch from paid-call reserve firefighters to volunteer firefighters.

The City Council voted Tuesday evening to establish a volunteer unpaid firefighter reserve program.

The city contracts with Cal Fire for its fire protection services. The city had a paid-call reserve firefighter program as part of the contract.

Cal Fire told the city in February 2010 that it would no longer hire or pay paid-call firefighters as part of its contract with Highland, leaving city policy-makers to re-examine how it would staff a reserve firefighter program, said Cal Fire spokesman Bill Peters.

“We saw the value of the reserves and we knew the program was definitely something we wanted to keep,” said Councilman Sam Racadio.

The council approved the program on a 4-0 vote. Councilman John Timmer was absent.

Racadio said Friday that the city has reaped benefits by using volunteers to augment the Sheriff’s Department’s law enforcement services.

“We have a bias toward volunteerism,” Racadio said. “It’s part of our public culture. We know they are the most cost-effective way to deliver services.”

The city has made good use of its reserve program in the past and council members wanted to keep it going in some capacity, said Mayor Larry McCallon.

“It was something we felt that we needed to continue,” he said.

Paid-call firefighters were fully trained, part-time employees who responded to emergencies as needed. As the name implies, they were paid. They were also insured by the state like other Cal Fire firefighters, Racadio said.

Highland’s paid-call reserve firefighter program cost the city about $53,000 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The volunteers staffing the new Highland program will be trained by the state but they will be unpaid and they will be insured by the city, Racadio said.

The council and city staff have worked for “a long time” on outlining the program, he said.

“Staff worked really hard on this,” he said. “They did a lot of research on it.”

To read entire story, click here.