On Tuesday, the Oakley City Council received an update from the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District from appointee Ronald Johansen and Chief Hugh Henderson about the District.
Note: Due to sound issues on the video, the microphone was not working during Johansens presentation; however, staff did fixit for the Q&A portion which is shown below.
Vice Mayor Doug Hardcastle wanted to know since the District decided not to do a June Ballot and there is discussion on a November ballot, did their survey ask potential voters if they would support it.
Chief Henderson stated the survey was not done by the District it was done by the local firefighters union—Local 1230. Currently, right now under the current education the results of June vs. November would be approximately the same. He explained the district is on an outreach and education program through August which includes additional community meetings, mailers coming out to continue the outreach. They are working to improve website and created a Facebook Page.
Hardcastle wanted to confirm since the June Ballot was going to be a $98 tax and by waiting until November if the number would jump to $130+ based off directors comments of the last meeting.
Henderson stated that if the District move forward in a November election, the money will not be collected until the next fiscal year. So at the conversation of the board members the additional money would be needed to make up the difference during the closer of stations—note, Henderson did not give a dollar figure, but Director Young (Brentwood) stated the figure would be $130 during the March Meeting.
Hardcastle explained how he is hoping the public understands what is at stake once the SAFER Grant expires.
“I am hoping people out there are smart enough to realize this was not a threat, this was actually going to happen if you guys didn’t get the money to fulfill the budget for the coverage that we need. I am like you that I don’t want to spend my money on parcel taxes but I don’t want to wait five more minutes or three more minutes for a fire engine to show up,” said Hardcastle.
Johansen explained that the thing to remember is that we did shut down fire stations for a short period of time before the SAFER Grant and this time around we will not have the Federal Government to bail out the District from delayed responses, pain, suffering, etc.
“People need to remember that at one point we had 8-stations covering 249 miles and 105,000 people and at this time we have 5-stations,” said Johansen. “There was study done that to maintain response times at National Level that we should have 10-stations. We are looking at a possibility of going down to 3-stations. This is a real crisis and I don’t know how to get the public to realize that.”
Hardcastle shared that he appreciates what the fire District does and does not want to see them go backwards.
Councilman Kevin Romick who previously served on the fire board stated that we (the District) were not kidding last time about closing stations and we were accused of fear mongering. He asked if there was any idea on what the polling was and was there even a chance this would pass?
Chief Henderson shared the polling results which they hired a consultant to who evaluated the polling done by the firefighters—their recommendation was not to move forward. He said there was a hardline 40% who would absolutely pay no taxes which killed the tax before it even got off the ground. He explained the District would have to overcome 13% which is a mountain since they were sitting at 54% and would need to get to 66.6% approval.
Councilwoman Diane Burgis asked about the ISO rating and asked is it possible we would be paying more in insurance cost than a parcel tax recommended?
“Very easily,” said Chief Henderson. “The last time the ISO was in the district was 2008 and at that point we were staffed with 8-fire stations across the District. At this point when they come in on Thursday we are at 5-stations and are going to have to lay out our plan for station closures if no additional revenue comes in.”
The Chief further explained ISO and how it plays a factor on a 1-to-10 rating with a 10 being no fire service at all. Oakley is currently at a 5-if you have a fire hydrant a 1,000 feet from your house or a 9 if you don’t have a hydrant within 1,000 feet of your house. Locations like Bethel Island are a 7 or a 10 while some parts of the District are rated a 4.
He gave an example of how Bethel Island was impacted by their station closing with ISO. On Bethel Island, some business experienced $1,000 to $2,000 increases in insurance when their station closed.
“So what you are saying it’s very possible people will be putting out that money somehow without getting the services,” asked Burgis.
The Chief responded that was a fair assumption.
Burgis then asked about how it would cost $125,000 to put the Parcel Tax on the ballot, she then asked who would pay for the campaign.
Chief responded that the district can only pay to educate but cannot work as an advocate. Behind the scenes advocating would have to be from a separate group within the community—as an example the local firefighters union. Where that money is raised is by the advocacy group is behind the scenes.
Burgis then questioned the lack of outreach.
“I don’t feel like there was a enough outreach on these meetings and not trying to be critical because they work with two-paid staff, so this is not a criticism, but what can we do to help make that better?” asked Burgis. “Even as someone who does pay attention I am not always aware of what Is going on. Is there something you can recommend so we can team up together to make this better communication?”
Chief explained that in May the District may be able to combine community meeting with City Councils to get more people to come out. They have opened up ourselves to all community service groups to get the information out.
Burgis then wanted to clarify where the idea of a 10-station district came from and if that was correct.
Chief Henderson referenced a feasibility study done by Citygate which was accepted by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 2006. They recommended that the District have 10-stations and that the District should still go out for additional revenue of around $240 because even then the District was still not bringing in enough revenue off property taxes.
Mayor Randy Pope asked about CONFIRE which had a study done. He wanted to know if our District was planning on implementing any of those recommendations.
The Chief responded that they did a Fitch Report on Contra Costa Fire which some of that report was not really changing around the amount of personnel on duty but reallocated personnel in different vehicles and off engines into squads but still keeping sworn personnel on duty.
“That won’t work for this district at this time because on a working fire we need 5-engine companies and chief officer on scene within 10-min. Taking those resources and making them into small groups will not work,” said Henderson. “I think what you are going to see by the time Contra Costa County Fire washes that whole report through is that it’s not going to work for them either.”
He used geography of the District and how you will have a problem getting five engines to a fire when you have crews on smaller vehicles needing to get to the engines. He stated that he believes the County will see changes in medical responses.
Pope then accused the District of not moving fire service into the 21st century stating a majority of the calls are medical vs. fire calls and not having vision on the future.
“I don’t see the Board having the vision of what the future of what the fire district is going to be. I see it as playing defense that we are just trying to save rather than trying to move the firefighting district into the 21st Century,” said Pope. “The vast majority of calls that we go to are not fire calls and we are a firefighting district but our current reality is we are doing far more than that. We are responding to medical calls, car accident a whole gamut of other calls we are going to.”
Pope then asked as a resident of the city, he expects that when he calls 9-1-1 that am ambulance or fire truck is at my house right away. Under a 3-station model, what can I expect my service to be like?
Henderson explained that during the 4-months when the District did have 3-stations, the City of Oakley had an increase of response times by 3-minutes. The City also had times when the District had no resources available. The Chief also explained what worked in the past is the auto-aid/mutual aid from CONFIRE but that has now been reduced to a maximum of 2-engines come to assist and depending on CONFIRE budget, could get eliminated at some point could be reduced further.
Henderson further explained the luxury of a District vs. city fire department. If a city needs five engines, we get them there. Tonight it could be Oakley; tomorrow it could be Brentwood or Discovery Bay. He explained how Mt. Diablo fire was in their District and all five engines were on that mountain—they backfilled the stations with staff within 2-hours.
Pope wanted further clarification on response times asking the Chief if response was 7-minutes and during closures it jumps 3-minutes that Oakley is looking at 10-minute responses?
The Chief replied under the four-month closed stations that was true.
“That is significant” said Pope.
The City of Oakley has now asked that an Oakley Appointee be at a council meeting once per month to provide an update of the Fire District so they can stay in the loop with District happenings.