Avra Valley Fire District has had its share of problems in the past, but those are behind it now, according to the district’s new chief, who is beginning to put his personal stamp on the department and how it functions.

Chief Brian Delfs, in the position since the first of April, said while it’s difficult to plan much more than three years because of the economy, he has three major areas of focus.

First is to restructure and pay down the district’s debt, “which translates into lower the tax rate for residents,” Delfs said.

Second, the chief wants to put all safety-related and capital equipment on regular replacement cycles.

Third, Delfs wants to build a station in the Red Rock community and move some of the district’s apparatus and firefighters there to protect the northern end of the district.

Avra Valley Fire District, which covers areas in the southern end of Pinal County and the northern part of Pima County, is one of the few fire districts in the state that crosses county lines.

Delfs, who also serves as a captain in the Tucson Fire Department and as chairman of the Industrial Commission of Arizona, is responsible for overseeing the activities of 24 full-time and 15 reserve firefighters working out of two Avra Valley stations.

It was the Industrial Commission of Arizona that levied stiff fines against the Avra Valley district after a hazardous materials spill in 2007. After being fined, the district laid off firefighters, closed stations and went through two fire chiefs.

Delfs pointed out the district has paid its fines and paid off all its commercial debt.

“We’ve rescheduled bond payments and hope to have them paid off in three years,” Delfs noted. The bonds were for air compressors and other station equipment.

Delfs said the district plans to build another station on the south end of the district, and use Station 191 as an administrative building, maintenance shop and to house reserve apparatus.

“But putting in a station on the south side, we would lower our response times, which would lower our ISO rating, which translates to lower homeowner insurance rates,” Delfs said.

The ISO rating, issued by the nationally recognized Insurance Services Office, examines the capabilities and services a fire district provides, and issues a letter-numerical score that affects the cost of homeowner’s insurance. (The lower the letter and number combination, the better).

Delfs said the district is attempting to get grants to fund at least part of the construction of a station in the south of the district, although none have yet been received.

Another reason for building a new station, Delfs noted, is to reposition apparatus for responses.

“We want to become more self-sufficient, rather than relying heavily on mutual aid,” he said. “Relocation of stations and increased staffing would make us more self-sufficient.”

Putting capital and safety equipment on periodic replacement cycles also makes sense, Delfs pointed out, because replacements can be planned into budgets instead of having to deal with unplanned and potentially expensive repair bills.

Delfs also is looking at the potential to build a station in the Red Rock community in southern Pinal County some time in the future.

“When Pulte Homes began building in Red Rock, it set aside property and about $1 million for a fire station,” Delfs said. “It will require about 1,100 rooftops in the development before Pulte will release the money and the land, but they only have about half those rooftops now. But we’re confident we can protect the north side of our district well with our current resources.”

Delfs noted that the first week he started at Avra Valley, he contacted OSHA and asked for a compliance assistance inspection to be sure the district was in good shape.

“We passed that inspection and even invited them back for another compliance inspection and passed that one, too,” Delfs said. “This is a very safe place for firefighters to work.”

Delfs said he’s received support from the fire board of directors, three of whom are new, with less than three months of service.

“Michael Garcia, also a captain with Tucson Fire Department, Sara Bauer and Billy Villa have joined chair Luis Castaneda Jr., and vice chair Aleyna Lassen,” Delfs said. “They all have been asking good questions, have been very involved and have given good direction.”

Delfs noted that changing the direction of an organization “doesn’t happen overnight, but it will eventually happen. Folks have worked so hard to turn this place around, and now they’re showing a real sense of pride in being part of the fire district. That’s what we’re looking to have happen.”

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