Board of Supervisors Forced into Terrible Auto Aid Decision

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Those of us in East County do not have to like the Board of Supervisors decision to limit auto aid to East County, but we should all respect it based on the voters deciding how much we were willing to pay for emergency response services.

With a unanimous vote yesterday by the Board of Supervisors, they sided with the staff recommendation of limiting auto aid to just three engines.

According to Option 2 of the Staff Report, CCCFPD would provide up to three units under the automatic aid agreement with ECCFPD. ECCFPD may request additional units through a mutual aid request and they will be provided if units are available. Additionally, CCCFPD would no longer respond to non-emergency or low priority service calls or provide routine area coverage if the ECCFPD units are committed.

This ensures that there is equitable distribution of resources between all participating agencies. The goal is to protect the interests of residents served by the CCCFPD and continue to be good partners in the automatic aid system.

What this means is 3-units will be provided automatically without hesitation. If more are needed, CCCFPD could send more units if resources are available, but that will significantly increase response times as that is a longer process. Ultimately,  the CONFIRE assistance like it used to is now gone which is a shame.

I have no doubt the Board of Supervisors hated making this difficult decision, but the blame is not on them, but rather the voters. The Board of Supervisors first responsibility is to look out for the people they represent and who pay into CCCFPD—East County does not! If I was on their shoes, I’d of voted the same way if I was looking at it objectively.

Some may accuse Supervisor Mary Piepho of selling out East County, but she was simply doing her job and made the right decision as did the rest of the Board. Do you really think she wants to limit services? Not in a million years!

According to Chief Henderson, the auto-aid discussion between the District and Chief Louder has been ongoing for several months with the concept in place since July 1. With that said, the formal agreement will take place at some point in August.

“The main ratifications will be after the first three engines have been used as auto aid, and additional resources are needed a mutual aid request for additional equipment will need to be made. Depending on call volume and activity those resources may continue to come from Contra Costa fire or another agency within Contra Costa County,” explained Henderson.

Chief Henderson went on to explain that they will continue to evaluate each and every emergency and the necessary resources to handle it. Some of their tactics and strategies will be modified based on the number of resources available at the time of an incident.

While I can respect the Board of Supervisors decision in working with both Chief Henderson and Chief Louder, the reality is CCCFPD will still have a hard time saying no to sending additional engines. More to the point, all one has to do is look at the figures and you will see that CCCFPD already supplements East County with little to no return of the favor—the ratio is nearly 9 to 1 and is clearly unfair if one is looking at this objectively and removing emotions.

For example, if there is a structure fire and multiple houses are in jeopardy, is CCCFPD really going to say no if resources are available?   I doubt it.

The logical response during an emergency by both ECCFPD and CCCFPD is to have our three engines on scene with CCCFPD providing two additional engines with the sixth engine covering the remainder of the District. If more resources are needed, CCFPD will make adjustments to ensure the safety of residents and its firefighters.

Ultimately, CCCFPD will move engines into Antioch/Pittsburg just in case additional resources are needed in East County.

If during that same time frame another fire pops up somewhere else in the District. It will be difficult for CCCFPD to say no as it would be a public relations nightmare. The worst case scenario is East County would have to contact Stockton, Tracy or another district for its reserve units.

So while the Board of Supervisors made the difficult decision on paper yesterday, it’s unrealistic that it actually occurs because if resources are available, they should be sent. Again, this is a case of depleting CCCFPD to supplement East County.

A better example of this may be to relate it to going to the emergency room without insurance. If one shows up, they hospital is still going to treat someone even if they cannot pay for it.  In return, the patient will never be able to treat the doctors who provided services in return.

Going a step further is that with this decision, it further puts a strain on the remaining ECCFPD firefighters on duty. This needs to be looked at with action to occur to resolve this as burnout will occur sooner rather than later. If those units are all tied up, our district is not in a position to hold the lines during multiple incidents.

Finally, I’d like to address Director Steve Barr who attended yesterday’s meeting. To correct the Contra Costa Times, he is not the chair as that title belongs to Oakley Mayor Kevin Romick.  I give him kudos for showing up and suggesting a six-month delay with the decision, but it was too little too late. With that said, it was somewhat inappropriate as he serves as Vice-Mayor of Brentwood and on the ECCFPD Board. It’s somewhat cloudy already that he serves duel positions in East County.

When he goes to the Board of Supervisors as a “resident”, it’s nearly impossible for the Board of Supervisors to look at him as anything other than a vice mayor or board member. You can remove one hat, but the other hat remains. I am not trying to slam the guy because what he attempted was noble, but he should have better sense than to do something that somewhat undercuts the rest of the Board.

While the Board of Supervisors was forced into this terrible decision, tougher decisions will ultimately  occur later in the year if CONFIRE does not pass their parcel tax as it will have further consequences to East County and our “backup” coverage.

East County does not  have to like yesterdays decision, but the Board of Supervisors were given little choice to vote in favor of the reduction thanks to a failed Measure S campaign.

Maybe next time facts will take precedence as opposed to rumors when people head to the voting booth. The reality is has hard as this decision was, we should be thankful CONFIRE will still be sending at least 3-engines instead of zero.

On the bright site, at least we did get something for nothing for the time being.