The city of La Habra Heights sits on the eastern end of Los Angeles County, among foothills filled with brush and trees. It has some spectacular views but also has the potential for some spectacular fires. The city does not have a full-time fire department but relies on a two-truck volunteer force, located at one end of the city. When George Edwardz decided to buy a pumper truck to augment the response capabilities of La Habra Heights, he thought that the city would appreciate the help. Instead, they threatened him with prosecution:
Edwardz, 39, an executive vice president of a communications firm that does satellite work for TV broadcasters, has lived in La Habra Heights for five years.
He bought his 1980 four-wheel-drive pumper truck for $7,200 from a department in Montour Falls, N.Y., in early 2006 after becoming alarmed at the slow response to his neighborhood.
Sometimes, he said, it takes more than 12 minutes for La Habra Heights’ fire engines — which travel through La Habra in Orange County — to reach his neighborhood.
When he acquired his 1 1/2 -acre hillside property in 2002 he was concerned about fire protection, Edwardz said. But local maps indicated there were five fire stations scattered across La Habra Heights, including one just a quarter-mile from his house, he said.
In fact, four of those stations no longer exist, including Station 5, the closest to his house. Edwardz and his neighbors clearly feel the need to protect themselves better than waiting 12 minutes for the long drive from the one working station. One might think that a city strapped for resources would welcome the help, but apparently not. Even though no one can explain how the law that criminalizes helping one’s neighbors fight a fire got on the books, the city attorney wants to make sure it gets enforced.
Doug Bandow calls the government ban on community action “moronic”:
To recap: in an area prone to fires, the government devotes little attention to fire-fighting. But when private people organize to protect themselves, the government steps in–and threatens them with jail.
It gives new meaning to the slogan, I’m from the government and I’m hear to help you!
The community response organization has received training in fire response. Roy Francis, a former Pasadena fire captain, told the Times that the response from the city surprised him. Th city manager claims that the city only responded because of a complaint from the LA County FD. The city attorney claims that the unit puts the community at risk.
One can certainly see that an untrained team with a pumper truck could do damage if they handled it improperly. However, letting the truck stand by while flames race through the hills would create monumentally more damage and possibly cost lives. The balance of interests here favor the volunteers who stand ready to serve and who could help defeat disaster. Government exists precisely to provide that balance of interests, and to protect their citizens. Forcing valuable resources to stand down during fires is the antithesis of the basis for any kind of government.