TUSAYAN, Arizona – The world is full of great stories, and Arizona is no exception.
With Arizona’s rich history, it would be difficult to identify the most important event that speaks of the big picture of life in Grand Canyon State. However, there are many who, although they never achieved fame, contributed to local history and played important, albeit more modest, roles.
In Tusayan, throughout its history, dozens of dedicated citizens have assumed an above-average level of responsibility to the town as it slowly moved from a herding community to what it is today. hui – a 16.8 square mile area that hosts millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon each year.
At the Tusayan Fire District (TFD), established in 1996 at the behest of the Grand Canyon, you will meet a number of these dedicated citizens, whose commitment and sacrifice paved the way for future generations, as Tusayan ushers in a new era. of political government to ensure the continued success of the city.
Long-time TFD members remember the early days
Longtime members of TFD chief Greg Brush and Captain Bruce Baker can recall what the times looked like at the start, before Tusayan was brought in in 2010.
“It was very different. It was a lot more laid back, ”Baker said.
Indeed, when Baker first arrived in Tusayan in 1984, most of the hotels and businesses that exist today did not exist.
Baker said the current TFD building, located next to the IMAX theater, was once used as dormitories for employees at the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel (formerly the Quality Inn).
“Our old fire station was in an unused hangar for one of the helicopters,” Brush said.
“The helicopter company was right across the street,” Baker added. “The airport was built in 1962. Papillon (Airways) moved there in the mid-90s, I believe.
At this time, Grand Canyon National Park was starting to receive an increasing number of visitors, approximately 4.5 million per year.
Over the past five years, visits to national parks have increased exponentially, thanks to marketing campaigns and social media sites.
Since 2015, Grand Canyon National Park has welcomed an average of 5.5-6 million visitors per year, with 2018 being the busiest year on record with nearly 6.4 million.
TFD coordinates with local entities to provide emergency medical services
For a city with an estimated population of 580 year-round, most of which are employees of local businesses, the steady increase in the number of tourists has caused a variety of growing difficulties; namely, a housing crisis and a lack of social services, including emergency medical services (EMS) and facilities.
When it comes to filling the gaps, TFD serves as the first medical unit of first response, in addition to being firefighters.
In fact, most of the TFD team are either licensed EMTs (emergency medical technicians) or paramedics, as well as firefighters.
“(Medical emergencies) are by far the majority of our calls,” Brush said.
TFD, along with Guardian Medical Transport and the National Park Service, all serve the Grand Canyon area to respond to a variety of medical emergencies, ranging from altitude-related illnesses to car crashes.
In serious and life-threatening situations, it is often a closely coordinated effort between the park department, TFD and Guardian to get injured people to Flagstaff and other nearby hospitals as quickly as possible.
Brush said an example of this effort would be airlifting an injured person from the inner canyon, switching them to ground transport with NPS, traveling to the Tusayan Fire Department, and then transferring them back to Guardian who would then lead the injured party the rest. of the way to Flagstaff.
Brush said he enjoys living and working in Tusayan near the Grand Canyon, however, sometimes the work has an emotional impact.
“In EMS, you always hear people talking about the golden hour of processing and transportation. Here you are outside the golden hour, even with the helicopter, ”he said.
Brush and Baker both agree that while there are inevitable losses, being able to save lives is what keeps them alive, in addition to working with other local entities to provide assistance to community outreach programs such as food banks and vaccination campaigns.
“I’ve never been (to) or heard of a community that comes together as much as this city, and it’s just that there is no such thing,” said Brush.
Meet the needs of the community and visitors with financial assistance
At TFD, meeting the needs of the community and its visitors poses unique challenges.
One of the biggest challenges TFD faces is funding, where in order to meet their large operating budget each fiscal year, they must work diligently to secure financial support in the form of grants and assistance from the municipal government. to maintain their level of service.
One such grant is the Firefighter Assistance Grant (AFG), which TFD received through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In 2020, TFD was allocated an AFG in the amount of $ 95,000 to cover the cost of replacing SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus) and expired ventilation masks, which are worn during firefighting. .
According to TFD, in order to meet the grant requirements, they had to demonstrate a significant need for assistance by citing that their SCBAs were 20 years and older, which does not meet the recommendations of the National Fire Prevention Association.
In addition, TFD had to demonstrate a financial need, as well as a need for better interoperability with surrounding agencies.
If TFD did not receive these supplements, their sole source of income (approximately $ 530,000 per year from property taxes) would not be sufficient to cover operating costs, employee salaries and training, and vehicle maintenance and equipment, which totals over $ 1 million per fiscal year.
Brush explained that due to the small size of the city, there is simply not enough property tax revenue to cover the costs.
“If (Tusayan) was just a small town without the Grand Canyon, we would probably agree,” he said.
In comparison, Ponderosa Fire District (PFD), which covers Bellemont and Parcs, has about the same volume of calls as TFD, or about 320 calls per year. However, Ponderosa’s estimated net worth is estimated at $ 45 million due to the larger acreage. TFD’s net appraisal value is just over $ 15 million.
Brush explained that the higher volume of property and taxes in Ponderosa is what makes a big difference in the amounts received.
“(Ponderosa’s budget) is about 2-3 times Tusayan’s budget,” he said.
A new era of financing aid thanks to an agreement with the city of Tusayan
In the past, Tusayan City Council has allocated funds to help cover the costs of TFD, at an average of $ 330,000 per fiscal year since 2016.
However, recently, the amounts of funding have been questioned by both parties, discussions to form an AGR (Intergovernmental Agreement) having started at the end of 2020, resulting in a 5-year agreement which was approved on June 29.
The deal will focus on the services TFD provides to the city and ensure that specific amounts are set aside for a variety of budgetary needs, such as vehicle maintenance and employee salaries.
TFD Chairman of the Board, John Vail, said the money the city will provide is “very generous” and will help cover the costs of purchasing a new first-aid vehicle, as the current vehicle TFD is out of service.
“It’s really good that we have a good working relationship with the city again,” said Vail.
TFD’s board clerk, Andrew Aldaz, said the IGA would essentially help both parties meet the terms of the deal, as it would provide a frame of reference regarding both parties’ obligations.
The IGA will ensure that TFD is able to increase the level of service provided to residents and visitors and will focus on obtaining the best ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating to provide local businesses with the rates of most profitable insurance.
Last year, TFD grabbed the headlines with its highest ISO ratings to date, placing them in the top 25 percent of fire departments nationwide.
ISO ratings are based on factors such as emergency communications, water supply, and community risk reduction, which TFD has been working to improve since 2015.
As everything falls into place as local organizations continue to seek new IGAs with the city, TFD has its eyes on the future and discussed the continued improvements to the city at a recent council meeting. ‘administration.
“There is going to be more communication than we have had in the past,” Aldaz said.
So far, Tusayan City has signed IGAs with TFD as well as with the Grand Canyon Unified School District, and is currently working on concluding one with Tusayan Health District as well.
With the new IGAs, the city has already seen improvements, such as the new community garden at the Tusayan Sports Complex, which is co-managed by Tusayan and the Grand Canyon School.
“Having the community garden (brings together) a lot more people, having conversations about what is needed and what else we (can) do,” Aldaz said.