Editorial: East Contra Costa Residents About to Feel Pain of Reduced Fire Services

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As of 8:00 am Wednesday morning, residents served by the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) may be waiting longer for engines to respond after a new Automatic Aid Agreement with Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (CONFIRE) goes into play.

Aid agreements are complex, but it really comes down to a resources available versus border issues between ECCFPD Battalion 5 and CONFIRE Battalion 8.

  • Battalion 5 (ECCFPD) – Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Byron, Bethel Island, Knightsen, Morgan Territory.
  • Battalion 8 (CONFIRE) – Antioch, Pittsburg, Bay Point

Under the new agreement, the closest resources will still be available on calls, however, there is now a limit on the number of engines that CONFIRE will send into ECCFPD based on available engines at any given time – a matrix has been created and the most Battalion 8 will send is 4 resources. After that, mutual aid comes into play.

Battalion 8 has a total of 8 units, here is what they will send based on availability:

  • 8 avaiable they send 4
  • 7 available they send 3
  • 6 available they send 2
  • 5 available they send 1
  • 4 or less they send 0

Just eyeballing the busy nature of Battalion 8, I’d say about 90% of the time the battalion has 2-3 engines on a call at any given time so using the matrix, CONFIRE will only be able to send 1-2 engines at the request of ECCFPD.

So how exactly does CONFIRE impact aid in ECCFPD?

Should there be a structure response anywhere in Antioch, Pittsburg or Bay Point, 5 of the 8 engines are dispatched thus leaving CONFIRE with less than 4 available resources. That means should ECCFPD need additional aid, none will be provided from Battalion 8.

If a fire breaks out in ECCFPD the same time as Battalion 8 has one, the 4th and 5th engines will be provided from a Central County station say Concord, Martinez or Pleasant Hill, or from CALFIRE, Rio Vista, Tracy, Stockton or even Livermore. This means more lives could be lost and more property destroyed due to time and distance.

Chief Brian Helmick called this new agreement the closest thing to going Mutual Aid without calling it Mutual Aid. He is 100% correct.

This is not good news considering the average response time in ECCFPD exceeds 8:00 minutes. But CONFIRE is not to blame, they have to cover their own needs first in Antioch and Pittsburg because the old aid agreement was unfair to CONFIRE and its taxpayers who had basically been supplementing ECCFPD services for years.

In fact, in 2018 alone, CONFIRE provided ECCFPD with auto aid a total of 612 times with 1,063 engines. In return, ECCFPD provided Battalion 8 with 362 calls for 409 engines. Simply put, CONFIRE provided 654 more engines which is not equitable—especially at nearly 2-calls per day on average.

Even worse, with Battalion 8 becoming the busiest battalion in Contra Costa County, they do not even have enough stations of their own as Antioch is in need of a 5th fire station sooner rather than later to cover its 115,000 residents.

Which brings up perspective, Antioch currently is about 30-square miles and has 4-fire stations and badly in need of a 5th. The ECCFPD is roughly 250-square miles and only has 3-fire stations for about 125,000 residents.

Simply put, time and distance are not two friends to ECCFPD firefighters, they are mortal enemies.

Going forward, ECCFPD is now forced to do something they should have been required to do all along when voters rejected a Parcel Tax in 2012 which is provide fire service with the resources they have rather than rely on a band aid solution of auto aid. Sadly, two additional tax measures also failed which aimed to provide increased fire services.

Some will call today the beginning of “finally feeling the pain”, but the truth is this is a new reality of living within ones means. I would also argue most of the public in East Contra Costa fail to grasp the dire urgency that fire service in East Contra Costa is in crisis mode.

Residents can now expect longer response times or face the likelihood a potential a fire engine may never show up. It will also create more wear and tear on ECCFPD firefighters, its engines, and equipment because 3-fire engines responding to calls is not a good long-term solution.

But even worse, the District is already a defensive operations minded district based on time and geography, with aid coming from further away, those house fires only get larger, vegetation fires become a huge problem, and medical calls that could have been minor might become deadly.

And let’s not forget, on rural fires that require a water tender, its technically just 6-firefighters on a fire because 3-firefighters are on water tenders. This is unacceptable by any standard.

This is not to take away from the job ECCFPD firefighters have done or will do, these are in

Dec. 3 bus fire on Bethel Island

credible men and women who are doing more than required with less. They have saved so many lives, so much property that it is incredible. And let me point out, while the focus typically is on a home that may have burned down, the real aspect of the fire that often goes unnoticed was saving the 2-3 other houses that could have caught fire.

So before people become critical of the firefighters, lets remember this is an issue that has not been solved and dates back to Prop 13 in 1979. No one has solved this funding issue.

The reality is this aid agreement is a 40% drop in services dispatched to calls—it would make anyone look bad regardless if you are fighting fires or in a desk job.  If people are offended by watching houses and barns burn to the ground, that is actually the new reality because the district is going to focus on life safety measures vs. saving property—yes, they want to save property, but that is now secondary objective.

This is an ugly situation all around and will be an emotional one when lives and property are lost.

CONFIRE is not to blame, in fact, they have been a good neighbor while going above and beyond what anyone could have expected from them. The current administration at ECCFPD is not to blame, they are simply living within their means as directed by the public three times and a lack of political will in Sacramento to fix this issue.

While a revenue enhancement of some sort continues to be debated leading up to 2020 election, the public should take every opportunity to educate themselves on why the District will be running much harder, longer, and see greater pain going forward.

It is my belief that the public should immediately support the funding of a 4th and 5th station within new development funding future stations (6-9). Remember, nothing is ever free. Neither is fire service.

Perhaps now, the residents served by East Contra Costa Fire will take the time to get educated about the District, the service models, and understand the urgency that needs to be taken to add stations as soon as possible.

This aid agreement ripped off a band aid that had assisted ECCFPD in covering up its lack of service levels for many years which many residents were unaware of. That is now gone and the holes in service levels will begin to show, again at no fault to the firefighters.

The public has been warned this day would come for almost a decade. That day unfortunately is here and the only losers going forward are the public who rely on the response of firefighters to show up when called upon.

Sadly, ECCFPD firefighters will do more with even less than they already had.


 

 

Mike Burkholder
Publisher of ECT
[email protected]


9 COMMENTS

  1. Wait for it, another attempt at a new special fire tax is coming to east county soon. There is and will be an influx of news to assist in selling the tax along with educating the need for more money over and above what you pay now. It has already begun.

    This will would be the fourth time with all previous attempts failing at a cost to the fire districts residents of almost a million lost dollars.

    Each attempt focused on fear and what ifs. This will be no different.
    As they say doing the same thing over and over with the same result is……

    While I am in support of all first responders, I also believe our district actually does need more funding. However, I would go about it in a different way. It appears that ALL Contra Costa Fire Districts need more money. This article backs that up.

    This quickest and most permanent way to generate a good size increased revenue stream without a shocking hit on your property tax bill would be a county sales tax increase. Each Fire District would receive a prorated revenue split. One penny in sales tax would create several millions of dollars plus to divide up.

    The current attempts to hit homeowners who already pay huge property taxes will be a stretch. We have seen this three times and a million dollars ago for only East Contra Costa. All Fire needs added funding and a sales tax increase is not a direct shock on homeowners and fixes the region.

    Remember Con Fire is hurting too.

    This regional issue should be tackled and supported by our Board of Supervisors for a county sales tax increase and supported locally.

    For anyone who says it can’t be done, research it like I have and it can.

  2. Until people need firefighters, no one will care about the warnings or lack of service. I think this is a great overview of what is about to happen and impact of auto aid. Unfortunately, voters will continue to fail to support the District with actual funding.

  3. Voters can’t afford more property taxes. I like the county wide sales tax idea better because I don’t do very much shopping in East County.

  4. Meanwhile too many new homes are being built, with many more going to be proposed, placing further stress on both the fire and police departments.

  5. It is easy math curt what we pay mayors and city services, cut the extra buildings the city is wasting money on and the extra effort they harass the good citizens on their yards and apply it to the fire district. That makes sense. To raise taxes when city employees are way overpaid for under talent is waste of taxpayers money.

  6. As my fellow East County residents continue to place the blame on others that they pay to many taxes already, wait until your Homeowners Insurance renews and you see your new premium based on our lack of fire services (it will be more than the first tax defeat in 2012, $100.00 per parcel). I suggest all of you review your home replacement addendum to make sure you have the proper coverage. Once your home catches on fire, it will burn pretty much to the ground based on the new fire coverage agreement.

  7. I blame the untruthfulness of Measure S of 2012. Many folks in East County were still feeling the pain of the recession. After voters found out ECCCFD employees could still retire at 50 with nearly a full pension annual salary, the uproar began. What did you expect from a voter working up 18 hours a day, six days a week? ECCCFD asked for more money at a time when people were working two or even three jobs to avoid foreclosure. ECCCFD failed to explore other options like pension and benefit reform. The FD took another hit when CoCo grand jury acknowledged the FD should have explored other options.

    Oh well……

  8. Who is responsible for providing
    adequate emergency services?

    By Mike Sloan

    Every resident of Brentwood would agree that the level of emergency services in Brentwood, and surrounding cities, is abysmal. No one disagrees that we need to reopen the five shuttered fire stations and staff them with an adequate number of fire and emergency medical personnel.

    The ‘elephant in the room’ has always been – “Who is going to pay for the expanded services?”

    Over the past seven years three proposals have been presented to the voters of Brentwood, and each would have resulted in a tax increase for the residents. Many can’t understand why these tax measures were defeated, but one only has to look at their tax bill to understand the answer to that question. The reason is that residents feel that they already pay enough in taxes to fund these critical services.

    In the current year’s budget, the Brentwood City Council is considering several “Community Facilities Improvements” that will cost over 16 million dollars. While desirable and necessary, in most cases, if these projects are delayed, no one will die. That is not the case with the lack of emergency services.

    Through no fault of their own Brentwood residents are receiving less than 25% of the tax allocation of some other fire districts in the county. This has occurred due to the lower level of services needed in the 80’s and 90’s. However, the tax allocation has not kept pace with Brentwood’s growth, and we are still receiving the same allocation rate we were receiving 40 years ago.

    The bottom line is, Brentwood is suffering from what Assemblyman Jim Frazer’s office has called “a public safety emergency.” But no one is taking responsibility for solving the problem. One Brentwood council member even stated when he was running for the office, “…….because the ECCFPD (East Contra Costa Fire Protection District) is a separate agency, (and) it is not Brentwood’s problem to solve.”

    However, this attitude may be changing. The current City Manager, Gus Vina, recently stated in an article in the Brentwood Press (May 3, 2019), in a story titled “Identifying seismic hazard zones”, “Whether it is an earthquake or a fire or truck that turns over with dangerous chemicals, part of our responsibility is to be ready to respond to things like that.”

    While this is an admirable statement on Mr. Vina’s part, the truth remains that Brentwood emergency services are not adequately prepared to handle any of his described situations.

    ​​​​​​​
    # # #

    “East County Voters for Equal Protection” is a non-partisan grass roots citizens’ action committee formed to address the issue of unequal funding of fire and emergency medical services existing in 249 square miles of Eastern Contra Costa County. About 120,000 residents, as well as those who work and play in Eastern Contra Costa, have services funded at a level one-fourth to one-third of those levels in other parts of Contra Costa County. For more information contact committee Chair Bryan Scott [email protected]. The group’s Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/EastCountyVoters/
    East County Voters for Equal Protection
    1300 Crescent Dr.
    Brentwood, CA 94513
    925-418-4428

    Update your Email Preferences or Unsubscribe

    TRACK

  9. The residents have spoken, and they don’t want to fund their Fire District. If they don’t want to pay a tax, than at least be prepared for a lack of service as a result. You can’t have it both ways. ConFire (Antioch)cannot keep providing mutual aid to cities that refuse to pay up. It’s not fair to the residents that do pay the full tax in Antioch.

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