The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Michael R. Dupray
Currently we have only 4 fire stations and 36 firefighters for the entire East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) with a current but growing population of 115,000. In Oakley, we have one fire station with nine firefighters for 24/7 coverage. The recommended per capita number is one per 1,000 residents. Oakley alone requires a minimum of 41. For the district, 115. The districts population is growing rapidly. We need many more firefighters and the buildings with equipment to support them. Our firefighters are paid up to 35% less than other surrounding fire districts. Poor pay and lack of job security creates a high turnover rate and increases the cost of training. To fully qualify a firefighter for active duty costs between $15,000 to $20,000 over a period of 9 months. This year, funding for the Knightsen station will end and it will close on June 30.
This lack of adequate stations and staffing causes an increase in response times to fires and medical emergencies, which increases the likelihood of death, loss of property dramatically increasing fire insurance premiums when homeowner insurance policies are up for renewal.
Currently voters are unwilling to approve, with a mandatory two-thirds majority, a tax measure to assure a return to appropriate staffing levels and response times.
A gridlock has developed involving the cities of Brentwood and Oakley, East Contra Costa school districts, and other agencies serving East Contra Costa over the East County Voters for Equal Protection proposal to reallocate the 1% Prop 13 countywide property taxes from other taxing entities to the ECCFPD, over time, to assure adequate fire and emergency services from ECCPFD. This gridlock must end.
We need a permanent solution now.
Creating an “Emergency Services Additional Revenue District” (ESARD) for ECCFPD will provide a permanent solution to assure a sustainable adequate level of emergency services indefinitely. Legislation is required to create this new type of local financing entity. An ESARD would have powers similar to the long-established “School Facilities Improvement District”.
The ESARD will receive the additional 1% property taxes from the unincorporated communities in the ECCFPD with the ability to receive secured loans from the California Treasurer. The incorporated cities within ESARD will be exempt. The ESARD must be governed by an appointed board of directors consisting of elected and appointed officials as well as labor and public members within the boundaries of the ESARD. The creation of the ESARD should maintain existing jobs within the jurisdiction of this new district.
With the record rainfall and increase in plant fuels, this year, the fire hazard this fourth of July and the rest of the fire season, coupled with the closure of another fire station in June, is far more dangerous than ever before. This increasing danger will continue until we do something about it. Under the current service model the likelihood of all resources being committed and unavailable for additional calls within the city is high.
A consensus to secure adequate permanent funding for ECCFPD is needed now. Not the current gridlock and increased risk of late arrivals for medical emergencies and more out-of-control fires. This ESARD proposal will eliminate this problem permanently.
Oakley resident Michael R. Dupray is a Principal Radiological Control Technician at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.