The tribe that owns River Rock Casino will continue to pay the neighboring Geyserville Fire District $336,000 a year to respond to emergencies at the casino, dropping a plan to create its own department.

The agreement announced this week still calls for the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo to build their own fire station at the casino, but it will be staffed by the Geyserville department.

North County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who helped broker the deal, said Tuesday it will bolster emergency response at the rancheria, as well as the surrounding community.

"This is a huge win for the north county, because we are seeing enhanced service within the fire district," he said. "Two stations will be staffed 24-7 within the district."

"The key to it is we were looking at the possibility of losing our funding," said Geyserville Fire Chief Paul Pigoni. "They wanted to use it to build their own department."

But the tribe agreed to continue subsidizing the Geyserville Fire Department with allocations of $28,000 monthly, which pays for four firefighters.

One of those firefighters will be assigned to the new casino station, expected to be complete in November. Two volunteer firefighters also will be on hand at the casino station to bolster staffing.

"If a brush fire occurs, if there's an auto accident nearby or a patron is in medical need, it would be immediate," Tribal Chairman Harvey Hopkins said of the response.

"It's an enhancement of the services not only to the casino, but the community itself," Pigoni said.

Tribal, county and fire officials described it as a unique, intergovernmental agreement that preserves tribal sovereignty and builds on shared services.

"It's an innovative new model of fire emergency services," McGuire said. "It will not only preserve, but strengthen a regional fire approach."

The three engines at the casino firehouse will wear logos from both Geyserville and Dry Creek.

Since the casino opened a decade ago, the Geyserville fire department has been responsible for calls to the rancheria gambling hall, located four miles away on winding Highway 128.

But Hopkins said the distance was more than ideal, and began pursuing plans for a tribal fire department last year.

The Geyserville department handles about 100 emergency calls annually to the casino, typically ranging from medical distress to the odd car fire.

The casino station will allow for faster responses. And staff at the new station also will be able respond to mutual aid calls in the Geyserville district.

Over the next three months, Tribal Fire Chief Robert Nelson will work to secure volunteer firefighters to help staff the casino fire station.

The volunteers get a stipend of $120 for a 24-hour shift and typically are younger people looking for experience.

Hopkins said tribal members who are pursuing a firefighting career will have the advantage of being able to train alongside Geyserville firefighters in a wider variety of emergencies.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or