This assessment is being put to the voters, due to a long-term issue that has plagued our fire district for decades. When Prop 13 was passed in 1978, the apportionments of taxes were allocated for levels of services at that point in time. Since East County was mostly rural, a very small proportion of our taxes were directed to the fire district.
Currently, East County has matured into a suburban/urban area, home to many families, commuters and new businesses. We have outgrown what was deemed to be adequate emergency services, which were fit for a rural community over three decades ago. The district has been underfunded for years and the reserve account has been exhausted.
We have seen our district struggle for many years, recently moving to local control but without any increased funding. Control of the district was transferred to a local board so it would be clear that necessary funding would remain local. With the lack of revenue, our firefighters have been responsible by doing more with less, but even that has not been enough.
Financial reserves have been spent down, and most recently several of our local fire stations had to be closed and remain shut. Without an immediate change in revenue, more remaining firehouses will be closed and the entire district would be cut to only three fire stations serving over 250 square miles.
In this very possible scenario, many communities will be without fire stations, fire engines or firefighters. This level of service would be completely unacceptable. When a major emergency occurs, all of our resources would be deployed, leaving the remaining communities vulnerable until engines from other agencies can backfill stations and assist with any other emergencies.
While fire department staffing varies slightly from agency to agency, the industry standard is the staffing of three firefighters per engine (often one of them trained as a paramedic). Having a paramedic with advanced life-saving skills first on scene can mean the difference between life and death. Further, OSHA standards mandate that a minimum of four firefighters must be on scene to enter a burning structure.
In far East County our fire district has been severely understaffed and unable to offer paramedic/advanced life support, first-responder services to the citizens that it serves.
Simply put, we would have only three fire stations to cover all emergencies in the district, which includes Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Byron, Bethel Island, Knightsen and Morgan Territory. This is not a scare tactic, but is the reality facing every citizen served by the fire district.
The district does not have a spending problem – it has a revenue problem. Due to the nature of emergency response, it is equally as important to look at the district as a whole and not as a service to any one community. One structure fire, one large grass fire, one multi-casualty incident or one multi-vehicle accident will instantly deplete the resources from all the firehouses.
If we as citizens take ownership of our fire district and pass this measure, we will begin the recovery of our emergency services to a level that many expect when they are injured or are in need of fire suppression. As a community, we need to insure our safety and that of our firefighters.
Don’t be misled by arguments that are inaccurate or focused solely on anti-tax measures. If our emergency services diminish, we will likely see greater increases in insurance rates offsetting any “savings.” Measure S insures that we will have the fastest and best possible emergency care available.
We have an opportunity to save our fire district and begin implementing fire services that we can all be proud of and stand behind. As a community, the ultimate priority is public safety. Please join us in supporting Measure S.