The Kern County Fire Department officially opened Air and Wildland Camp Eight on Thursday, Nov. 15 in a ribbon cutting ceremony with County Supervisor Zack Schrivner, Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall and Tehachapi Mayor Ed Grimes doing the honors.
Used by the fire department as an Incident Command Base Camp during the Canyon Fire, Lightning Complex of 2011 and the Jawbone Fire in 2012, the facility is located at 20569 Eumatilla St., near Tehachapi at the site of the old Monroe School.
Purchased by the fire department $504,000, the 13-acre site includes 2.5 acres of developed land consisting of a 4,000 square foot structure and eight portable buildings.
Because of its location it will be able to respond to fires in the immediate area including assisting residents of Sand Canyon with a Seasonal Engine Company.
"It seems like a good foundation that has gone unnoticed for a long time," Dan Kleinman, Operation Section Chief within the National Incident Management Organization from National Headquarters of the Forestry Department in Washington said.
"This is a good location for a training facility and a good facility to base firefighters out of for that rapid response. Developing this seems like a positive aspect to be able to provide service."
The camp will also be used an incident command center and staging facility for Cal Fire strike teams as well as an emergency/alternate Fire Department Headquarters, Emergency Operations Center and Emergency Communications Center.
During fires or other disasters it will also be available to act as a temporary evacuation center, large animal evacuation center or community meeting center.
"During 2011 we had four significant incidences in and around our community," Schrivner said. "That was really the impetus of why we're here today, as there was a recognition that this facility could be a resource for our fire department and for all emergency response."
Throughout the summer, Tehachapi Valley Fire Crew 81 worked to convert the space that will be used not only as a training area and staging area for the fire department, but for the Bureau of Land Management, who will also station a dozer crew at the camp.
The crew created two training rooms, a main reception and office area, as well as a physical fitness room, kitchen and break room.
There are accommodations on site to sleep over 50 personal and the grounds have adequate storage for large vehicles and equipment used on a daily basis to build or maintain fuels projects around south and eastern Kern County as well as space to land helicopters when needed.
Vacant for a year before the fire department bought it, Schrivner pointed out the financial benefit of the project for the Tehachapi Unified School District.
"Your taking a facility that was really a drag on the school district and its turned into what I think is going to be a real win for the Kern County Fire Department."
Something Mayor Grimes agreed with saying that he couldn't think of anything better suited.
"I think this is a beautiful facility for all the people here," he said. "It's going to help in fighting fires and I can't think of a better use than to turn this school into what it is now."
Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall reviewed the history of the site's use in the recent fires and said that current fire crews stationed at the facility will spend a lot of time working on fire prevention.
"For every dollar we spend in fire prevention and fuel reduction we save over $100 in suppression costs," he said.
Marshall then explained the importance of wildland fire fighting; pointing out that last year's Canyon Fire claimed 32 homes by the time that fire was extinguished.
"Untold number of lives were changed forever," Marshall said. "When these major wildland fires burn, over one million dollars per day are spent in suppression costs. You and I pay for that. The taxpayers pay for that. The smaller we keep the fire the better off we are." 1. County Supervisor Zack Schrivner, Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall and Tehachapi Mayor Ed Grimes cut the ribbon opening Wildfire Camp 8 at the old Monroe High School site
2. Sign at the entrance to the new Kern County Fire Department Camp 8
3. Kern County Fire Chief Brian Marshall address the crowd at the opening of Fire Camp 8 at the old Monroe High School location
4. County Supervisor Zack Schrivner addresses the crowd at the opening of Fire Camp 8 at the old Monroe High School location