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Paradise Police and Fire Chiefs talk about the future of their departments

The Paradise Police and fire departments are still working to recover. Several officers and firefighters moved away after the Camp Fire.

Posted: Nov 8, 2019 5:20 PM

PARADISE, Calif. - The Paradise Police and fire departments are still working to recover. Several officers and firefighters moved away after the Camp Fire.

Action News Now reporter Laura Eng spoke with the chiefs of both departments about the challenges they face and how they plan to overcome them.

"I was born and raised in Paradise so it wasn't an option to give up," said Paradise Police Chief Eric Reinbold.

One year after the Camp Fire, the road to recovery for the Paradise Police Department has been a long one.

"The year has flown by, but in the same respect, it feels like it's been five years," Chief Reinbold said.

The fire not only changing the landscape of the city but also the professional landscape of Chief Reinbold's police department.

"This event was overwhelming, to say the least, and it definitely took its toll on our folks," Chief Reinbold said.

It’s a sentiment Chief Reinbold understands all too well. Born and raised in Paradise, he, among thousands of others, lost his home in the fire, his family relocating out of town.

"It wasn't a choice to move to Chico or to another community. We were forced to make a decision," Chief Reinbold said.

We spoke with the police chief about some of the challenges he's faced.

"We had 21 sworn police officers prior to the fire. Right now we have 11," Chief Reinbold said.

He said finding housing has been a challenge for many prospective officers.

"It really came down to people that lived close enough to commute or lived in the area to be able to work here," Chief Reinbold said. "In the past, we were a very busy department, call to call, and it was hard to adapt so they went to other local agencies."

He said the fewer calls have led him to reorient what the department can focus on.

"There is a lot more time to be proactive and more community-oriented and go out and connect with the community members and the businesses," Chief Reinbold said. 

We spoke with a Camp Fire survivor, Willy Watson was one of few who didn’t lose their house.

"I think they're doing fine, I think they're patrolling, they're answering calls. I've even been pulled over out of our house to see why I'm here," Watson said. 

With the decrease in population, the Paradise Police Chief says he's not necessarily seeing an increase in crime. Thefts are among the crimes the police chief has been focusing on since the Camp Fire.

"It's been an emotional toll. Last year it's been a long year watching the debris removal the recovery process," said Paradise Fire Chief John Messina.

"You know, one thing that firefighters have is they've got true ownership in their community and it's been a pretty emotional ride for many of them," Chief Messina said. 

Chief Messina said three firefighters transferred out of the department.

"It's been fairly easy to replace them, so it hasn't impacted staffing," said Chief Messina.

The Town of Paradise contracts cal fire to provide fire protection services. Currently, there are 14 in the department. Chief Messina says the call volume has significantly dropped.

Since November 8th, it's slowly increasing, but the population is coming up back in town as people are slowly rebuilding and moving in.

He said it's been a challenge for his firefighters to readjust to the slower change of pace.

"More of a community event attendance and fire code inspections. Their mission has changed since the Camp Fire," Chief Messina said.

"One year later it's a whole new town. We're starting over and it will get better we'll be better. Paradise will be a good place to come to," Barbara Crosley, a Camp Fire survivor. 

"You see all this recovery taking place, new homes being built, you have damaged trees being taken down, infrastructure being approved. It really shows the commitment the community members or residents have to coming back and really enforces why we're here and really enforces the commitment we have to our community to ensure they stay safe and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they rebuild," Chief Messina said. 

The police and fire chiefs hope their departments can serve as symbols of strength for the people in their town and they said they hope this will encourage people to come back and rebuild. 

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