Photo by Melissa van Ruiten

Funding from a recently approved tax measure will usher in funding for the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District to have six stations.

Fire and emergency services in East County received a needed boost after the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors approved millions of dollars on Tuesday, Nov. 16, that will lead to new fire stations, additional fire crews and new firefighting equipment in the region.

The funding comes from Measure X, a 0.5% sales tax collected on the gross receipts on the sale of personal property across the county. After being overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2020, collection of the tax began in April.

“Yesterday was a historic day for East County residents who have long needed more robust fire services in East County,” said District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis. “The funding approved by the board yesterday, together with the ongoing annexation of East Contra Costa Fire into the Contra Costa Fire Protection District, will result in station construction and staffing for a total of six stations in the current East Contra Costa Fire service area as well as the reopening of an additional station in Antioch.”

With Tuesday’s approval, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) is slated to receive a one-time allocation of $17.2 million and an annual disbursement of $3.5 million. Of that figure, $12.2 million will be used to build and equip a new fire station in downtown Brentwood. The annual allocation will be used to staff that station.

The downtown station will be constructed on the 700 block of First Street – the location of the existing Station 54 that has been shuttered since 2014. According to a report provided to the supervisors, the current building is functionally obsolete and unsafe for occupancy. It will be demolished, and a new two-story structure will go up in its place at an estimated cost of $11 million. Another $1.2 million will go toward the purchase of Type 1 and Type 3 fire engines. The Type 1 is used for most fire and emergency calls, while the Type 3 is designed for fighting wildland fires and can travel offroad.

An additional $5 million will be allocated to support the construction of the new Station 51 to be located at the intersection of Empire and Grant avenues. Staffing and operational costs of Station 51 are expected to be covered by the district’s pending annexation with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (Con Fire). The City of Brentwood has pledged $7 million to the construction of Station 51 through the collection of developer impact fees. The ECCFPD has also applied for up to $3 million in federal funding to offset construction costs, though who will get those grants is not yet known.

“It’s a good day for us,” said ECCFPD Fire Board President Brian Oftedal. “Looking at the big picture, our problem has been resolved.”

ECCFPD Fire Chief Brian Helmick has previously committed to making Station 55, located in Summer Lake in Oakley, operational in early 2022. With the addition of Stations 51 and 54, the district will double the number of crews operating within five years and erase a service level gap that the district has long struggled to fill.

“Specific to East Contra Costa Fire, the ask that we made and the need for our jurisdiction, in combination with annexation, was filled,” said Helmick. “(The supervisors) addressed what we needed to be able to get the sixth station, not only constructed, but staffed.”

The supervisors also approved expenditures for Con Fire. A second crew will be added to the existing Station 81 in downtown Antioch. Measure X will provide $1.6 million for the purchase of a fire truck and another $3.5 million annually to cover the ongoing operational expense. A 14-member hand crew to battle wildfires will be funded by an annual $2.5 million allocation, and fire fuel reduction efforts will receive $2 million annually.

While the promise of millions in new funding is welcome news for firefighting agencies across the county and residents alike, many items requested by a coalition Contra Costa County fire chiefs in May were not funded.

“The original ask was closer to $28 million (a year),” said Helmick. “There are many items that did not make it through.”

Initially, Measure X, which will expire in 20 years, was expected to generate about $80 million per year. Current estimates now place that figure at approximately $105 million a year. As a general tax, there were no statutory requirements attached to Measure X when it went to voters. Additionally, county legislators were prohibited from discussing how the revenue would be spent before the vote. After the measure’s approval, the supervisors established the 17-member Measure X Community Advisory Board (MXCAB) to provide direction on spending priorities. The MXCAB recommendations were submitted to the supervisors earlier in the fall. However, the final decision on Measure X revenue allocation rests with the supervisors.

“There will be a 50% increase in the number of engine companies in the area I represent, and those companies will be staffed with advanced life support paramedics,” said Burgis. So it’s not just more service and quicker response times, it’s better service for residents. I want to thank all of the partner agencies and community members who have worked so hard to get us to this point and especially Fire Chiefs Lewis Broschard and Brian Helmick, the East Contra Costa Fire Board and Vince Wells from Local 1230, who has been a stalwart on this issue for years.”