ECCFPD Chief Bill Weisgerber said that both of Discovery Bay's engine crews were engaged with a medical call last Sunday when the 5:05 p.m. call came in for a structure fire on North Point. Other district engines were already in the process of backfilling stations to provide a complete network of coverage for the district, but before backup engines could control the blaze, it consumed one house, damaged 50 percent of another and caused exterior damage to a third.
ECCFPD Battalion Chief Jeff Burris said Byron, Brentwood and Knightsen engines arrived at the scene in approximately 11, 11.5 and 12 minutes, respectively. He added that while the North Point neighborhood affected by the fire was pleased with the service the department provided that day, "they just wished we would have gotten there sooner."
The district's goal is to respond to a fire scene within five to six minutes.
Fire industry standards call for a three-man engine crew, yet due to a lack of funding, ECCFPD is capable of running with only two. Would three firefighters on Discovery Bay's Engine 59, which was covering the medical call, have made a difference in the amount of damage the North Point homes sustained? "Absolutely!" said Burris.
If three firefighters had been on the first engine, a second engine would not have been needed to respond to the EMS call from Station 58, Burris said, leaving it available to respond to the fire call or any other call.
"They (the first two firefighters on the scene) requested a second engine for manpower to help move the patient and continue CPR," said Burris. He explained that the patient was upstairs and one firefighter was needed to perform active CPR, while two others carried the patient downstairs.
Burris said that once the ambulance arrived, two firefighters were needed to board the ambulance to continue compressions and ventilation, while the ambulance paramedic administered drugs and kept in contact with the Sutter Delta Medical Center.
A similar scenario occurred in Brentwood the week prior, according to Burris. Both Brentwood engines were on a medical call when a house fire broke out at the corner of Lynn Drive and Berry Lane.
In the case of that fire, Oakley, Knightsen and Byron, as well as Contra Costa Fire, responded, arriving between 11 and 14 minutes after the call came in. "It wasn't a total loss," Burris said, "but there was significant damage."
Formed by the merger of three smaller districts, the ECCFPD provides two firefighters per engine, neither of whom are paramedics. The goal of reaching the industry-standard three firefighters including one paramedic was established through an independent analysis and public meetings, but has been prevented by a lack of funding. Tax rates that fund the district were locked in at 6 cents per property tax dollar - roughly half of what Central County fire districts get - by Prop. 13 in 1978, when volunteer fire services were adequate for the mostly rural area.
In working to re-vamp the under-funded district, the County Board of Supervisors, which currently runs the ECCFPD, earlier this month authorized work on a plan to switch it to local control. Several studies and public meetings have determined that residents want to upgrade the current service levels from two firefighters per engine to three, and to add paramedic service not currently offered by the district.
Local leaders believe that unless representatives who live in the district call the shots on spending, they will not support additional taxes that may be necessary to bring the district up to those standards.
This week, the Board of Supervisors approved $44,000 to fund a public opinion survey to see if the residents of far East County are willing to pay more, but the poll won't be done until the governance issue is settled, said Supervisor Mary Piepho.
"It (the public opinion survey) was approved, but only to keep the process moving parallel to the independent governance body. The plan is for the ultimate/final survey to move forward under the new governing board," which is still to be determined.
Rick Lemyre contributed to this story.