With a 3-station service model with time and distance as the enemy, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Fire Chief says that come August, the way firefighters respond to fire calls will change.
On Monday, Chief Brian Helmick told the fire board that by dropping from a 4-to-3 station model it decreases the districts resources by 25% and that unless a life is at stake, they will no longer be able to be an aggressive interior fire attack organization.
“The Master Plan calls for 9-stations, 3 is just not adequate to provide the services that will protect the citizens and businesses in our community,” said Helmick. “We have been working with our neighbors next door at Contra Costa County Fire to determine the best way we can get resources… today we have an automatic aid agreement that limits us to two resources and there have been many situations within the agreement that does not make it work within the existing 3-station model so we have been trying to figure out how to maintain some sort of automatic agreement and or go mutual aid.”
- Automatic Aid – an agreement where two fire district sends the closest available resources regardless of District boundaries.
- Mutual Aid – an agreement where two fire districts send a specific number of units upon request, thus creating a slight delay in response due to an approval process.
Helmick stated that a final decision on Contra Costa County Fire aid to East Contra Costa Fire and visa versa will be decided by August 1, 2017. He also added as an organization, with or without an agreement, under a 3-station model they have to make additional changes in how they respond to all types of calls.
“As of right now, we are working as if there will be a mutual aid agreement,” said Helmick.
Helmick further told the board whether its mutual aid or auto aid, it determines how they will approach incidents.
“Operationally as a District, regardless of automatic or mutual aid, we have to change our operations. It’s something we have been looking at and something we need to do now that we are going to be a 3-station model indefinitely,” said Helmick. “This is a resource issue with time and distance being our enemy.”
He explained that with only three engines, they do not have the resources to provide an aggressive fire attack.
“That means we arrived at scene, identify the situation and we aggressively go into the structure and fight the fires as aggressively we can to not only protect life, but property,” explained Helmick. “With us being a 3-station district, with a time and distance working against us, we have no other option but to change our operations to a defensive fire attack. A defensive fire attack means we arrive at scene, we start defensive. The only exception to that rule is if there is a life safety issue. If we know there is a life safety issue we will risk a lot to save a lot, we will go into a home with one resource at scene and do everything within our means to save a life. However, if we identify if everyone is outside of the occupancy, there is not a life safety situation, we modify our operations accordingly where we start defensive, we work transitionally to an offensive fire attack, due to time and distances there is a high probability we will not be able to achieve an interior fire attack. That means we are fighting the fire from the outside.”
Helmick further stated that they are transitioning by August 1 to become a defensive structure firefighting organization–meaning the priority is not protecting the home on fire, but preventing the fire from spreading to neighboring homes, structures and vegetation.
For the District to become an offensive structure firefighter organization, it would require the fire district to grow to a 5-to-6 fire station district explained Helmick stating he did not have a timeline of when they would be possible.
Vince Wells, President of the Unified Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230, stated that CONFIRE has increased staffing and the response model within CONFIRE up to 7-units on a structure fire to ensure rehab and accountability on scene.
“East County is forced, and I support Brian on coming up with that we have to train differently we have to learn differently and we can only expect 9 firefighters and that is if nothing else is going on,” said Wells. “I want to make sure that efforts are being made to make it safer for the firefighters, it’s still a crap sandwich and we are just putting toppings on it to make it palatable, the effort still needs to be there to find the funding, this is not going to be sustainable.”
Wells noted that the same crews who were up for a day and a half on the Marsh Creek Fire had to get up the next day and respond to calls explaining that when you are churning guys over and over again on a large amount of calls, there is a fatigue and injuries could happen.
Wells encouraged the Board to continue to look for funding.
Board Member Joe Young stated this was the new reality and explained the thinking of a fourth station needs to stop and get their minds on a 5 station or 6 station model.
“What you are seeing today is the realization of what we really are and creating what I call the status quo foundation in which we are going to try and build from. We have to accept three is what we got and that is our foundation, now how are we move forward. To be an offensive attack agency, we need those 5 or 6 stations, until we get there; I think we are talking about a defensive operation.”
Helmick will report back at the August 7 meeting on further changes being made to how firefighters will respond to calls.