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Tensions rise as Cave Creek fires leave Valley taxpayers with hefty costs

(Twitter Photo/@azstateforestry)

PHOENIX —  Fire departments neighboring the town of Cave Creek have grown increasingly frustrated after concluding the town has become reliant on their departments’ responses – with nothing paid back to their agency or their taxpayers. 

The East Desert and Ocotillo brush fires seem to have been the last straw. The brush fires cost $312,190.89 for taxpayers across the Valley, except for those living in Cave Creek. 

Despite the town’s rapid growth, Cave Creek does not have a fire department. Instead, the town has hired the private company Rural Metro for fire service needs.

The company operates on an individual subscription basis with residents. 

According to their website, this means fire protection and emergency medical services are not paid for through taxes, leaving residents responsible for establishing a fire service account directly with Rural Metro Fire. 

In the Cave Creek area, Rural Metro has one primary responding fire station. There are four firefighters on duty at all times, including at least one paramedic. 

When multiple structures were threatened in a matter of minutes during two brush fires in May, outside fire departments came to the town’s aid. 

“Somehow they’re going to have to pay for a response and … they have to change their game,” Daisy Mountain Fire Chief Brian Tobin told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

They have to change their response or we just simply can’t continue to come back in the fashion that we did in East Desert and Ocotillo.” 

Tobin believes the town has put their citizens at risk and has made no contribution of their own, all while continuing to rely on the taxpayers of other agencies to pay for emergency responses in Cave Creek. 

Similar sentiments are felt in Scottsdale. However, the Scottsdale Fire Department currently has a written agreement with Rural Metro for reimbursement. But now, Chief Tom Shannon wants out of the deal. 

“It was a flawed effort to get some costs recovered for going to calls in Cave Creek,” Shannon said.

“It encumbers my automatic aid partners as a, ‘pay as you go’ type of participation which is inappropriate.” 

Automatic aid is an agreement between fire departments to help each other across jurisdictional boundaries. The service is used when local emergencies exceed local resources. The agreement ensures when one department serves an area out of their own service is paid back to them or there is a monetary reimbursement. 

However, that’s not the case with Cave Creek as Rural Metro is not included in the regional automatic aid agreement. 

As a result, the Regional Metropolitan Phoenix Fire Service Automatic Aid System now faces a $312,190.89 bill after they battled brush fires May 17-18 and May 30 

But it’s not just the expenses that has fire chiefs worried — it’s also the fire stations left empty when they are called to lend a hand in Cave Creek. 

“Who knows what might’ve happened or what did happen during that time when everything just went empty because we all just rolled into Cave Creek,” Tobin said.  

The black dots on the map below indicate where fire trucks from Phoenix, Scottsdale, Daisy Mountain, Glendale, Peoria, and other cities left their jurisdiction to battle brush fires.  

The town of Cave Creek declined an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM regarding the town’s current fire service response. However, the town is said to be evaluating the current model that it uses for fire services and is looking for means to improve emergency responses. 

“We have been meeting with the fire agencies that assisted in fighting both the Ocotillo and East Desert Fires,” Cave Creek Town Manager Carrie Dyrek said in a statement to KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“That includes Daisy Mountain Fire, Rural Metro Fire, City of Phoenix Fire, City of Scottsdale Fire and the State Department of Forestry and Fire Management. We are working with these agencies to gain their expertise and insight into the unique wildland urban interface environment in which Cave Creek operates.”

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