Over the past few years, Dry Creek Rancheria Chairman Harvey Hopkins has witnessed a few small fires on the hill by the tribe's River Rock Casino near Geyserville, but they were quickly put out.
“I've watched little fires hit the property — an incident here, an incident there,” he said Tuesday.
But when a grass fire last year led to an evacuation of a tribal office, “I said 'that's the end. I'm going to build a fire department.' ”
New Dry Creek Rancheria Fire Station
Hopkins spoke Tuesday at the dedication of the tribe's new fire station adjacent to River Rock Casino.
Two shiny, new red fire trucks and a third refurbished one represent part of the hefty investment the tribe has made to create a department. That also includes a garage and a surplus FEMA building that will serve as office and living quarters.
The tribe paid more than $700,000 for two state-of-the-art Pierce pumper trucks, one a large four-wheel-drive vehicle intended to battle wildland fires.
The Pomos also hired Craig Lowe, a former captain of the Santa Rosa Fire Department, as a full-time fire chief. He will oversee the new department of three full-time fire captains and a roster of a dozen firefighters.
“Sonoma County just got a brand new fire department free — no cost to them,” Hopkins said, noting that Dry Creek will be part of a mutual aid network to respond to north county fires.
The station will be staffed by two personnel around the clock, consisting of an officer and firefighter.
“They've obviously made tremendous efforts and improvements here,” said Randy Collins, a retired Healdsburg Fire Department chief who runs the fire program at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Other tribes with casinos in Northern California also created have their own fire departments, including Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation at Cache Creek Casino and United Auburn Indian Community at Thunder Valley.