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Nevada Co. Firefighters Wage Successful Fight to Save Lives and Jobs

A fire department cut in half. Fire and EMS response times of up to 20 minutes. A declaration that their homes are “uninsurable.” Firefighter jobs on the chopping block. These were the stakes for a klatch of communities nestled in the Sierra foothills when residents voted in a special election this past Spring.

Thanks to a strong unified campaign, voters got the message, and overwhelmingly approved a special tax that will, quite literally, save their fire department.

The Placer Hills Fire Protection District serves nearly 13,000 residents in the heart of an extremely high-risk wildland-urban interface. It has been served by two fire stations and has offered local paramedic service out of those stations. The district was facing the loss of one of its two fire stations and the complete loss of its EMS response capability, as six years of economizing had reached its limits.

“We had tried to get a special tax passed in 2012, and got a majority of votes to support us, but we didn’t get the two-thirds vote we needed,” said Matt Slusher, a Placer Hills firefighters who led the effort for Nevada County Firefighters Local 3800. “Our district had been economizing and filling in with reserve funds, but we just couldn’t squeeze public safety anymore.”

Determined to avoid a repeat of 2012, Local 3800 spearheaded a broad coalition that included fire management, community leaders and a wide range of opinion leaders in the fire district. Slusher reached out to CPF’s political and communications teams, which convened strategy sessions with the district’s leadership and worked out a campaign plan for the special election, to be conducted entirely by mail.

Through CPF’s Firefighters Print & Design, a campaign web site (saveplacerfire.com) was developed outlining the major messages in the race. CPF also drafted, designed and executed three mailers for Local 3800, underscoring the stakes in the race, that hit every voter many times. Most importantly, front line firefighters took a decisive and pro-active approach, informing voters of what was at stake in the contest. The district’s fire chief, Kurt Kushen, amplified Local 3800’s messaging in public statements, further underscoring the community consensus.

When all the votes were mailed back and tallied in early May, the victory was overwhelming – nearly 80 percent of voters said yes to the $185 per year parcel tax.

“We’re incredibly grateful that the community came together the way it did,” said Local 3800 President Clayton “Because of this election, we saved firefighter jobs and, more importantly, helped ensure that our communities get the protection and services they need and deserve.”