The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District has been awarded $7.8 million in grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rehire firefighters laid off in July.
ECCFPD Chief Hugh Henderson said the grants, offered as part of FEMA’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, were originally declined, but when additional money was located, the ECCFPD request was granted.
The grants would provide $3.9 million per year for two years, enabling the district to staff six stations with three firefighters each. The money can be used for personnel only, and does not solve the district’s money woes, Henderson emphasized.
“This is a short-term fix,” he said. “We still have the long-term funding problem to deal with.”
Henderson said the ECCFPD Board will meet next Wednesday to decide whether to accept the grants. The money comes with significant restrictions: it cannot be used for the additional expenses needed to re-open and maintain closed stations, operate additional engines or pay for overtime. It also requires that additional staffing be maintained for the entire two years at three firefighters per station.
If accepted, the grants would return staffing to 2010 levels: 54 full-time firefighters, 18 per shift. The district now operates with 27 firefighters, nine per shift.
“The grant will provide additional safety to our communities and our firefighting personnel,” ECCFPD Board President Kevin Romick wrote in a press release Friday. “We will be able to provide fire services without the strong impact on neighboring agencies.”
The failure of the Measure S parcel tax in June forced the ECCFPD to close stations in Brentwood, Bethel Island and Knightsen and lay off 15 firefighters on July 1. Response times from the remaining three stations increased by an average of 9 percent to seven minutes, 10 seconds in July districtwide. Bethel Island’s service was impacted the most, times nearly doubling to 10 minutes, 32 seconds.
The station closures also forced a review of aid agreements with nearby agencies. The ECCFPD had already received help covering calls from the county’s Confire district twice as often as it provided aid in return. Since the closures, Confire has assisted only in emergencies in the ECCFPD, and no longer covers empty ECCFPD stations while those units are on a call.
“Since the station closures in July, we have been doing our best to respond to over 18 calls daily and cover 249 square miles of territory,” Henderson wrote in Wednesday’s release. “This grant could increase our resources, reduce our dependence on outside agencies, and most importantly, improve our service to the community.”
The special ECCFPD Board meeting to consider accepting the grants is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the Oakley City Council Chambers, 3231 Main St.