The stations, along with Station 95 in Bethel Island, were closed in July after the failure of the Measure S fire tax. Last month, the ECCFPD received notice it would receive $7.8 million in grants for firefighter salaries from the Federal Emergency Management Association’s SAFER grant program.
The ECCFPD Board on Monday approved its budget for fiscal 2012-13, which includes the revenue from the grants. The budget calls for 51 firefighting personnel, up from the current 27 thanks to the FEMA grants.
But because the Bethel Island station has been declared unsuitable for human habitation, and because the trailer formerly used for crew quarters has been removed, the district can’t simply reopen all the closed stations, despite the fact that the firefighter salaries are covered.
Operational details will come back to the board in October, but ECCFPD Chief Hugh Henderson said the firefighters displaced from Bethel Island station would probably be used to add a fourth firefighter to other stations. That would allow the first-arriving unit to immediately attack a fire and remain within federal law requiring four personnel on scene before entering a burning building. Previously, the three-person crews in the ECCFPD were required to wait for a second engine or the arrival of a battalion chief before entering.
Henderson said the Knightsen station would re-open first because its closure, and that of Bethel Island, has created the longest response times in the district. Since the closures, the response for Knightsen calls has increased from an average of 8.05 minutes to 12.35. On Bethel Island, times have jumped from 7.01 minutes last year to 13.40 in August.
The additional firefighters and stations should be in place by December, Henderson said.
Also on Monday, the board reviewed a list of operational ideas suggested by the public and brought to the board by Director Steve Barr last month. The ideas included requiring sprinklers in new homes (which is now required by state law as well as ordinances in Brentwood and Oakley) and vacating the rented district office in Brentwood.
Henderson said the use of Station 58 in Discovery Bay, which was closed in 2010, was being considered for the relocation of the offices. One concern is that the station is located on the district’s southeast border, which could impede response times for battalion chiefs who respond from the office to calls on the opposite side of the district.
Another suggestion, which the district has considered in the past, was to charge out-of-area residents for emergency services received while within the ECCFPD. Henderson believes those calls could mean between $435 and $2,200 per call in revenue for the district, or an additional $85,000 per year. “This would be one area I suggest we come back and revisit,” he said.
The suggestions will be considered more fully in the coming months, after new directors are appointed. On Tuesday, Oakley named replacements for its three representatives (see the related story above). Brentwood is currently accepting applications and is expected to name replacements for some or all of its four board seats after the November election.
The board also agreed to Henderson’s suggestion concerning volunteers. Recent outreach by the district has resulted in a total of 60 applicants expressing interest in serving as volunteers should the district initiate such a program. Because of the work required to implement the SAFER grants, Henderson said the district should continue to take applications until spring, when the possible volunteer program would be revisited.