Fire Truck

Press file photo

Looking to improve fire service to city residents, the Brentwood City Council and the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) Board of Directors each unanimously approved a service enhancement concept intended to roll two-person rescue squads onto the streets.

A rescue squad consists of two firefighter/EMTs, initially operating out of existing stations, who will respond primarily to medical calls, currently accounting for 66% of calls in the district and 71% of calls in Brentwood.

ECCFPD Fire Board Director Joe Young said the concept is based on two primary objectives. Once sustainable funding for a new station has been established, implementing a squad will reduce the amount of time before new resources can begin servicing the community. Additionally, hiring and training the six firefighters required to operate three rescue squad shifts provides a stepping stone to hiring and training the nine firefighters needed to operate an engine company.

“From the day you say, ‘Let’s go with a new station; we have the money,’ it’s three years until you’ve got it in operation,” said Young. “And we said, ‘That’s a long time.If we know we’re going to start a station, is there a way to get the benefit earlier and to jumpstart the process?’ What we concluded is that a squad would be that type of arrangement.”

Young estimated that a squad — by operating out of an existing station — can be made operational in approximately 12 months at a cost of $750,000, thereby providing an additional resource to the district and the community a full two years sooner than waiting for a new engine station. The fully loaded cost to operate a rescue squad is pegged at $3 million.

The district operates three stations, while their strategic plan released last year identified a current need for six stations and a projected need for a total of nine stations, based on expected development and growth in the coming years. ECCFPD is examining funding opportunities to reach the six-station goal, and it appears likely that a benefit assessment or parcel tax will be put before voters sometime in 2020. To reach the nine-station goal, the district will look to a funding source that has been largely untapped since the district’s founding: developers.

“(The fire district) has not, over the years, been at the table when developments are coming through our process,” said Brentwood City Manager Gus Vina. “That kind of speaks for itself. Fundamentally, the first real important change is that (the district) is now at the table. So they can speak directly and with authority about what is needed. That’s already happening. That’s now in motion.”

The first attempt to implement the rescue squad concept hit a snag on Monday when ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick introduced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the district and GBN Partners, LLC, a Blackhawk Nunn company, in which the developers would have provided $750,000 to the district to fund the startup of a rescue squad. At the same time, the district would offer a resolution of support for Measure L, the proposal to move the city’s urban limit line and allow the development of 2,400 homes on 815 acres known as the Vineyards at Deer Creek. The board balked at the MOU and opted not to put it to a vote, and Fire Board President Brian Oftedal directed Helmick to re-enter negotiations with the developers.

Development of the service enhancement concept sprang from cooperation between the city’s Fire and Medical Services Ad Hoc Committee, consisting of Councilmember Karen Rarey and Vice Mayor Joel Bryant and the district’s Strategic Planning Ad Hoc Committee, consisting of Young and Director Carrie Nash. Funding for the rescue squads is expected to come through increased developer impact fees and the establishment of a community facilities district (CFD), a move that ECCFPD is currently pursuing.

“We cannot make new development projects pay for the current fire and medical services deficit we are in,” said Rarey. “But we can, by establishing fire community facility district assessments to fund fire personnel, and increasing fire impact fees for new stations, make new development pay for the impact they’ll have on our community, above and beyond the funds ECCFPD would receive from property taxes.”

Helmick described the rescue squad concept as a bridge from the time development begins until long-term funding provided by CFDs and property taxes accumulate to the level at which a full-service engine company can be made operational.

“It’s all about trying to be innovative and creative because it’s revenue that makes it very difficult for us to staff an engine company,” said Helmick. “We know that it’s going to take time for development to bring in the revenues to increase service levels of stations and engines. So what we are attempting to do is utilize developers in a collaborative effort to implement this bridge concept.”

Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery said Oakley will be watching how this process develops before taking any steps to follow suit.

“We are interested in seeing how the medical squad will work, and can evaluate after it has been implemented for a while,” said Montgomery. “Unfortunately, Oakley doesn’t have nearly the same revenue flow that Brentwood does.”

Vina believes the rescue squads are an important step in closing the district’s service gap, but he emphasized that work needs to continue.

“It is not the solution, ultimately,” said Vina. “The district still needs to get to nine stations eventually, and those need to be engine companies, not two-person squads. This is a jump-start.”

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