Oakley City Council Receives Update from Fire District



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.


  1. ““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”

    Really??? It seems to me that right now the “vision” is trying to maintain service, Nothing else, Not until the finances are in place and relatively stable. What kind of political hogwash is he slinging around? Its hard to believe that you can actually plan for the future when you are on the edge of closing stations. I guess when the 2 stations are closed in November, Then the “vision” can be looked at. What an idiotic thing for Pope to say. If he or any of the council members, Or anyone else for that matter want to stay informed, Then they can go to the meetings and see. All they want is to be spoon fed the information. I didn’t read anything about the city offering to help the fire district..did they offer?

    • Untill the board promotes a vision tied to a viable process adapted to the changing world, the public will not support a tax increase.

  2. Let’s just face the fact, we are screwed. The fire dept is going down to 3 stations, the cities are going to keep on building homes adding to the problem. The majority of the people in this district are going to get a real surprise come November. Some one will call 911 and will be told that there is an extended response time. Maybe the city’s should offer FREE first aid/CPR classes.

  3. I would like to know how many meetings Randy Pope has attended or what fire expertise he has for him to make the statement ECCFPD is not in the 21st century? Last time I checked, he was a cop. His ignorance is very telling and shame on him.
    Maybe instead of criticizing the board, he should offer a solution because from what I am reading, he offered nothing more than a cheap shot from the nose bleed session. Maybe he can volunteer his time to serve o the fire board in the future.

  4. Maybe Oakley can use volunteers to help prevent a gap in response times? What if Oakley hired its own version of AMR and had an ambulance or two on hand each day?

    The City Council should be better informed and involved in the process, not rely on a report from the fire board, maybe they should start going to meetings and be kept in the loop. If they have representatives, why are they just now requesting a person come back for an update each month, why start now? What the heck has this council been doing?

    The City Council has as much blood on its hands as the fire board does with station closures. Shame on all of them.

  5. Michelle B do you go to fire board meetings? Perhaps you should and share your ideas.
    Volunteer fire departments used to be helpful but that was a time when people worked in town and had employers that allowed them to leave their jobs during an emergency. Further there are all kinds of regulations that require (expensive) training & liability coverage(also expensive) even for volunteers. So if we invest all that money in to a volunteer we do so with the understanding that they are a VOLUNTEER and can choose to not show up. The district would still be required to have back up coverage just in case.

    If you were paying attention to the article the City Council talks about the need for better communication. Has any other council gone this far yet? Instead of bitching you should be praising and then challenging other electeds to get involved. Do you think that the councils are purposely ignoring things? I suspect that our council people who work other jobs and get paid very little for the amount of time they put in serving their communities expect that staff and the district would alert them of developments. In this case it hasn’t been that way and this council put a light on it. I think it was a positive step and from their comments they do care and want to help solve the problem.

    The history of the fire district reveals a long history of discord, politics & turf protection. The district operates on a staff of 2. The percentage of tax received from property taxes is as much as 1/5 of what other fire districts get. The area covered is very large and diverse with country roads, water, urban development and everything else between.

    If you really care (and aren’t just taking an opportunity to complain) I challenge you to attend the next fire board meeting on 4/7. Share your thoughts and get involved in the solutions to fixing this fire district.

    • I believe the ECCFPD board members get no pay and have other jobs as well. The district employees do not answer to the city council. If the city council wants information they have the ability to get it just like the rest of us do. I am sure they are intelligent enough to pick up a phone, use a computer..etc…Instead of burdening an already overburdened group of volunteers.

  6. The City first of all should have never pulled it’s council people from the commission. There are solutions for the district but it appears no action and leadership has been exercised other than the easiest way, a parcel tax. If you continue to try the same proposed tax , you should expect the same result. I agree with Pope that the fire district is on defense.They need to be on offense. At least try something different to get revenue. Remember it is the counties responsibility for medical responses.The fire department has taken a medical role without demanding financial mitigation from county health services. This should have been one of the first discussions when our supervisor allowed us local control. Development continues to be approved without specific mitigation for fire delivery (not the regular building fee) . Fire should demand mitigation or not give their approval for development. Until the district decides to play hard ball with the BOS and the Cities to form a consensus and attack it, the results will remain what we see.

    I’m pretty sure there will be a few sarcastic derogatory remarks from the regulars. So what, the truth is sometimes hard to accept.

    • John, the “specific mitigation for fire delivery” is called property taxes. New parcels pay the same 1% base you do.

      In fact, if it were not for the new construction in ECCFPD, the hole we’re trying to climb out of would be much deeper and there wouldn’t be the revenue to keep 3 open.

      Why is it you continue to ignore that basic math?

      You moved into an area that was paying half what it should for professional services. Now the chickens have come to roost and those cheap rates won’t cut it anymore.

      You don’t have to answer the question about why you think anyone but you should pay to solve this problem. We already know the answer to that one.

      Nothing derogatory about that. Just the facts.

      • Buy a Clue,

        What is most problematic for John is what he isn’t divulging. Think about it….if you owned several parcels then you would pay a greater amount in property tax.

        I’m guessing our man John is a slumlord. Mind you, that’s just a guess. So what is it John, just how many APNs fall under your name?

  7. I know him and he is not quite as land rich as you are guessing. I think maybe two that I know of. In reading his suggestion of a sales tax for the fire district makes both of you two look quite ignorant. I know he has given the fire district much more money than a parcel tax would take. I also bet what he spends in sales tax would top a parcel tax. You guys chased off our volunteers before we could get more money. Now everyone is complaining.You both should look up what tax mitigation exchange is. You must not know. Maybe call John up and he could explain it to you. When I sold some of my land the developer said he had to mitigate with the county before he could build. What is that all about guys?

    • Al, mitigation is when a Developer builds a $2.3M fire station(Station 59) in Discovery Bay or makes agreement to build one(Cypress Corridor) in Oakley? Guess you boys in Knightsin(sic) are a little behind on the news?

      Maybe you can answer the math problem John likes to avoid. If you’ve run off all the Developers with smothering fees and Mello Roos type taxes you wouldn’t have a pot to piss in for revenues today. Do you agree or not?

      If you’re not sure how to do the math problem, just estimate how many parcels would not have been built in the last 20 years and multiply by $300. That will be roughly how much less revenue you would be getting than today. So how many stations would you estimate you could run on that?

      You old fellas are fairly big on double speak. Chased off the volunteers? You mean the ones who didn’t show to some calls and put the public in jeopardy? Wasn’t that around the time your friend John was a sitting Fire Commissioner? Now that could be a made up story……..except it’s in a couple of different fire studies that were commissioned. So probably fairly accurate.

      Some people long for the days of volunteers, just like some others long for the days of dirt roads and horse and buggy.

      Most of the rest of us are trying to live and survive in the 21st century.

  8. @ Jeff C
    That is the dumbest thing I have ever read about the little pay for the council and if that is what you think then the maybe some of these people who make very little should get off the council and go find a second job. Or, resign and get people who want to put the effort in represent Oakley.
    I am appalled at the Oakley council. If the Council was not ignoring the fire board they would have a representative at each meeting or have their appointees report back to them. Common sense says read a newspaper or come onto ECT for the updates. Why not get staff to attend a meeting and report back? There are a variety of ways to get the information but the City Council has ignored it and that is a fact.
    The Oakley Council has done nothing except receive information at this point so don’t think they have accomplished anything. The Chief goes before all councils each quarter with an update including Discovery Bay and Bethel Island.
    This idea that Oakley Council is setting the bar high because the are first is ridiculous. Its nothing short of pandering and Monday morning quarterbacking. . If they cared before the ECCFPD decided to not go forward with a parcel tax, they would have put out info on behalf of the District. They would have spoken to the people who voted them into office. They would have paid attention like they are elected to do. Instead, they washed their hands of the District and when something like this happens they play the blame game.
    As far as I am concerned, they should all be replaced.

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