East County residents may soon see a long-awaited increase in firefighting and rescue resources after the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (Con Fire) Board of Directors approved a resolution to annex the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD).
Con Fire’s board, which is composed of the county’s board of supervisors, unanimously approved the resolution Tuesday, Sept. 14. The ECCFPD Board of Directors is expected to take up the issue during a special meeting that is, as of press time, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 16. The ECCFPD resolution is widely expected to pass.
“Overall it’s going to provide better firefighter safety, and better protection and coverage to the community with additional services to the communities,” said Gil Guerrero, ECCFPD battalion chief and vice president of Local 1230, the United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County. “That’s what it was all about. On the Brentwood and Oakley side, this is a huge, huge victory for them. We’re going to have services like truck companies, hand crews, hazardous materials (crews), helicopters, dozers – all the things that we don’t have will instantly become part of the service model for East Contra Costa. This is world-class service. What Con Fire offers is really state-of-the-art service.”
Annexation with Con Fire has long been viewed as a means to improve fire and rescue services in East County. The ECCFPD serves its 249-square mile district with three engine companies, while its strategic plan identifies a current need for six engine companies to provide the level of service dictated by the National Fire Protection Association. Over the years, the lack of sufficient resources has contributed to extended response times, excessive wear on equipment, and firefighter fatigue and injuries.
“I am pleased by the board of supervisors’ decision (Sept. 14), acting as our fire board, approving our request to formally apply for annexation of East Contra Costa Fire into Con Fire,” said Fire Chief Lewis Broschard of Con Fire. “I look forward to the East Contra Costa Fire Board of Directors’ consideration of annexation later this week, and anticipate we will soon begin moving forward with implementation of this long-studied initiative that will provide more effective, efficient and safer fire and emergency services across our county.”
The board’s approval will result in a request to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to annex the ECCFPD service area into Con Fire’s service area. The same request will dissolve the ECCFPD. It is expected that LAFCO will require approximately six months to complete those actions. Because the ECCFPD will be absorbed into Con Fire and will cease to exist, the action contemplated by Con Fire’s board is referred to as an annexation, though it has commonly been called a consolidation.
District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis, who cast her vote for annexation with an enthusiastic “Heck yes,” said that resolving fire service issues in East County has been a key issue for her even before her tenure as a county supervisor.
“I do believe that this action helps stop any more Band-Aids from having to be figured out for East Contra Costa Fire,” Burgis said. “I also think this is a win for Contra Costa Fire because there will be a lot more teamwork happening in East Contra Costa County. This will protect the safety of our firefighters. This will help enhance our ability to protect residents and the people who are served out in East Contra Costa County.”
If annexation is approved by LAFCO, the first change likely to be noticeable to East County residents will be the staffing of a ladder company that is expected to operate out of ECCFPD’s Station 52 located on Balfour Road and John Muir Parkway. ECCFPD officials have previously announced that Station 55 will be fully staffed in early 2022 regardless of the outcome of the annexation effort. That station, located in Oakley’s Summer Lake neighborhood, was completed in 2019, but budget constraints prevented it from being made operational since its completion.
Persistent funding challenges created by the peculiarities of Proposition 13 have plagued the ECCFPD since its formation in 2002. Several attempts to improve funding with tax measures have failed over the years.
The resource shortfall resulted in the ECCFPD leaning heavily upon Con Fire. Auto-aid agreements between the two neighboring agencies often result in crews crossing district lines to provide incident support. But data showed that Con Fire was sending crews to the ECCFPD at several times the rate that the ECCFPD was responding to Con Fire incidents. As call volumes increased in Con Fire’s service area, the level of aid Con Fire was providing to the ECCFPD became untenable. Steps to create auto-aid parity between the two agencies were made, but those efforts met with only limited success.
“(Sept. 14) was another monumental day in the process of seeking annexation between the East Contra Contra and Contra Costa County Protection District,” said ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick during an interview Wednesday morning.
“It’s one additional step that needed to be done. (Sept. 16), the East Contra Costa Fire Board will consider taking the same action. With those two pieces, we’ll be able to successfully work toward merging the districts and resolving the service level deficits that we have.”