Faced with the failure last week of Measure S, a parcel tax aimed at offsetting plummeting property tax revenue, the ECCFPD must cut $3 million out of its $11 million budget. The moves mean closing half the district’s six fire stations and issuing pink slips to nearly half its 43-person firefighting staff.
The board considered three options presented by staff Monday:
• Three-station model: stations in Brentwood (Balfour Road), Discovery Bay and Oakley, each staffed with three firefighters. A total of 27 fire personnel would be needed, translating into 16 firefighter layoffs.
• Four-station model: two stations in Brentwood, and one station each in Discovery Bay and Oakley, each with two firefighters. This would require 24 fire personnel (19 layoffs).
• Four-station hybrid model: two stations in Brentwood, and one station each in Discovery Bay and Oakley. Three stations would be staffed with two personnel, and the fourth, possibly rotating station, would be staffed with three. This model would require 27 firefighters (16 layoffs).
“While all three staffing models will work within the District’s projected revenue, staff is recommending the Three-Station Model to provide a fully-staffed, three-personnel engine company to respond to emergencies within the District,” Henderson wrote in the staff report. “This model provides the best service model for the District as well as the safety for our District and firefighters.”
Speakers at Monday’s meeting overwhelmingly spoke in favor of three-person engine companies for the sake of both public and firefighter safety. Assistant Chief John Ross of Contra Costa Consolidated Fire District said the three-person staffing model was important to fluid command-and-control when ECCFPD units assist other agencies operating fully staffed companies.
Directors Steve Barr, Erick Stonebarger and Bob Brockman of Brentwood, along with Cheryl Morgan of the Morgan Territory, voted to keep four stations open. Stonebarger said the 3,174 calls the two Brentwood stations answered last year would be better served by two engines splitting the calls, even if staffed by only two firefighters.
When it appeared the three-station model would garner enough votes to pass, Stonebarger asked the fire board to reconsider which three stations would close, noting that Brentwood’s downtown station (now set to close) answered almost 1,200 calls last year, a workload that would be added to the Balfour Road station and amounting to almost 10 calls per day. He noted that Discovery Bay’s station answers about 700 calls per year, and would likely spend a lot of time on the road covering Brentwood calls from several miles away. He echoed a comment of Brockman: “I’d rather have two guys show up in five minutes than three guys show up in 10.”
Chairman Kevin Romick and Directors Pat Anderson and Jim Frazier of Oakley, along with Robert Kenny of Bethel Island and Joel Bryant of Brentwood, voted for the three-station model, noting the strong public support for staff’s recommendation and the need to maximize both public and firefighter safety.
“Not one of these (models) are good; in fact, all of them are bad,” said Bryant. “I have to defer to wisdom and experience. I cannot say I know more than the guys who do this job every single day, and they tell me this (three-station model) is the best way to save lives. I have to go along.”
That argument did not sit well with the other Brentwood representatives, who vented their frustration when the issue was discussed at Tuesday’s Brentwood City Council meeting.
“Brentwood got sold down the river,” Stonebarger said Tuesday, adding that the decision “lacked respect and recognition of what the voters said.”
Brockman, who also feels more residents would be helped by faster responses that the additional unit in the four-station model could provide, said he was upset that the fire board made “no viable attempt” to change the district’s operational model in the wake of the resounding defeat of Measure S. The directors who voted for the three-station model, he said, “bowed down to the firefighters mainly because there was a room full of firefighters.”
Bryant responded Tuesday that he stood by his decision. “None of (the proposed models) was adequate,” he said. “But voters knew these were the service levels we were looking at, and they were willing to live with them. The important thing now is to remedy the problem and start considering ideas the Measure S opponents came up with.”
Barr said that’s what the four-station model represented: “We missed an opportunity to implement one of those ideas.”
Also on Monday, the ECCFPD received the news that Engineer Willie West, a 23-year veteran firefighter who worked 10 years for the ECCFPD, had lost his battle against cancer. A moment of silence was observed and the meeting was adjourned in his honor.