Opinion: Tuesday Highlights Vulnerability of Fire District Resources

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Since November, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District has been working off a FEMA Grant which has allowed the District to reopen two fire stations and hire 10 firefighters which have come in handy in recent months.

Last night, the Grant paid off and highlights the need for no less than a 5-station service model  as all five of our engines were in usage at one time.  This means that help to East County was coming all the way from Antioch under our auto aid agreement.

I won’t provide any examples of hypothetical incidents, but just close your eyes and  imagine where you live in East County and you are forced to dial 9-1-1. Now imagine in your time of need, your help is coming from Antioch because your own district has limited resources and are all tied up on other calls.

Needless to say, I don’t think you will be happy when seconds count and an engine is not showing up. You would probably find it unacceptable.

Here is a quick round up of last nights activities:

  • 5:05 – outside fire on Portsmouth St. in Oakley which required Engine 93 to wait on PG&E and were on scene for about an 65-minutes
  • 5:12 – medical emergency on Flores Way in Brentwood which required Engine 52 for nearly 50-minutes.
  • 5:48 – medical emergency on Chablis Ct. in Oakley which required Engines 93 and 94 for two-hours and 39 minutes.
  • 5:48 – a second medical came in at the same time on Heather Pl. in Brentwood requiring Engine 52, BC5, and BC5 5100. They were on the call for 56-minutes.
  • 6:03 – a medical emergency came in on Sunflower Ln, in Brentwood requiring Engine 54 for roughly 57-minutes.
  • 6:04 – Traffic collision came in on Balfour and Sellers requiring the services of Engine 59 for nearly 23 minutes.

The two long medicals required helicopter transports. One incident had an elderly woman thinking she had put her vehicle in park which was not the case. She got out of the car and she ran herself over while suffering major injuries.  A second incident had a man fall from a roof of a church after losing his footing on a ladder.

It should also be noted, this was no breeze for AMR who worked in conjunction with our fire district as well as helicopter crews who had multiple requests two separate incidents. These incidents also required police on scene as well to investigate.  Not to be forgotten is emergency responders responded to a 3:00 am big rig accident on Brentwood Blvd which caused the road to be closed for nearly 12-hours.

Ultimately, the five stations yesterday were able to handle the calls, but imagine that same timeline of incidents occurring (and it will in the future) under a 3-station model when the grant runs dry in Nov. 2014. The system would have been overloaded and folks would have been waiting a long time for help.

East County did dodge a bullet yesterday as the “big” incident did not occur while our resources were committed, but one day that may not be the case and my hope is folks will be aware of this.

What I’ve provided above is not a hypothetical scenario, but it did happen and lives were effected. We were one call away from someone in need for whatever reason not getting a quick response. That is one scenario none of our emergency crews want to experience.

The community needs to be aware that we are on borrowed time thanks to a federally funded grant and unless another revenue enhancement is brought forward with community support, going back to a three-station model is asking for a lot of heartache.

Here are a couple photos from the helicopters landing in Brentwood

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Burk Byline

By Michael Burkholder

16 COMMENTS

  1. I do not envy East County right now and sorry to say, but stop taking our Antioch engines away from us. We pay a higher tax for them and are subsidizing you all.

  2. Like I have said before, the property tax needed to be voted in. As an Antioch citizen and CERT provider all the citizens are in danger if severe multiple incidents happen at the same time. Everyone needs to be prepared.

  3. Lets look at the type of emergencies that have recently happened in our county and then make intelegent comments on what kind of first responder services we need, not just say hire more ambulances.

    MEDICAL CALLS- The fire department provides incident command and directs all contracted medical providers (i.e. AMR) who provide only ONE paramedic. If you are sick or dying you need 2 – 3 paramedics working to save your life. Ambulances are capable of transportation and often the fire department paramedics will ride in the back of the ambulance.
    VEHICLE ACCIDENTS- Fire department provides incident command, jaws of life, vehicle stabilization and hazard mitigation, and primary medical care. The contracted ambulance (AMR) provides transportation only in the event that a medical helicoptor is not used.
    STRUCTURE FIRES EVERYDAY in our county – recently the fire department saved a woman from a building on fire in walnut creek AND provided the medical care to a critically burned vitcim
    GRASS FIRES almost everyday in our county – the fire department has specilalized engines for off road firefighting
    CAR FIRES – ambulances cant put them out
    HAZARDOUS MATERIAL RESPONSES for overturned big rigs, fuel spills, chemical releases – fire department provides hazardous material containment and decontamination.
    SPECIALIZED RESCUE CALLS – a while ago a man was trapped in a trench in Brenttwood, a woman was rescued from a water canal in Concord, another woman was rescued from a underground drainage pipe in Concord, and a man was rescued from a submerged utility vault in San Pablo to name a few. The fire department provided the rescue response AND the initial medical care.
    WATERWAY EMERGENCIES – the fire department provides fire and rescue boats and trained rescue swimmers
    EARTHQAUKES – while we haven’t had one in a while, we are due. The fire department provides the equipment and resources to rescue people trapped in collapsed buildings, freeways, and other structures through FEMA based urban search and rescue teams as well as being able to extinguish the ensuing fires after such a disaster. They will also provide medical care to these vicitims as they are being rescued.
    SERVICE CALLS – when you have an unknown water leak, gas leak, smoke detector issue, appliance issue, plumbing issue, weird smell in or around your house, kid locked in your car, you are locked our of your house, or simply need help for something that you do not know what to do about, the fire department comes and assists and usually fixes the problem.

    The fire department provides advanced life support care and is historically the first ones to arrive to your emergency to privde the highest level of customer serivce and ensure you are treated professionally and recieve the service you deserve.

    Simply stating hire more ambulances is not cost effective for the current ambulance company, as it is a for profit company and their goal is to provide a service that is the most cost effective to ensure a profit.

  4. Bobby,

    So enlighten us, how are you going to save money by “hiring more ambulances” and leaving the firefighters and equipment they bring back at their firehouses? Please don’t forget that we are already paying the firefighters to be on duty and available. By running less calls there is no captured savings. You realize that you are paying firefighters by the day, not the call right? Where is the savings with your plan? This ambulances don’t come for free. Oh, and who is going to hire and pay for them? Just another detail you left out. Maybe you can educate us.

  5. A property tax will lose. Central County couldn’t even get much more reasonable $75 per year increase. The recovery is way to slow for most folks to handle than the $200 increase they wanted here. Additionally, once you let the county know that they can nickel and dime you and get away with it, every other district (fire, water, sewer, etc, etc, etc) will have their hands out (not that Ironhouse doesn’t already have carte blanche on us).

    The solution is out there, but it’s going to have to come from the Board of Stupidvisors and what I’d think should be a single fire district for the county.

    • How are the Supervisors going to force San Ramon, Richmond and Orinda-Moraga to sign up for that idea? None of them are in the dire straits that ConFire and ECCFPD find themselves. None of them answer to the Supervisors on delivering fire services. Why the heck would they consolidate to subsidize your sorry, cheap asses?

      East County pays half what everyone else does in the county for fire. Looks to me it’s you nickel and diming your fire department, not the other way around.

  6. @Captain Klutz,

    Can’t compare Confire to East County measures, they were for different things. Having said that, I believe a $80-90 annual tax would pass in East County long before it ever passes in ConFire. People are already thinking twice of “what if” 54 and 94 were closed again as we have had a few close calls AFTER they were re-opened—a perfect example is the downtown fire at La Fuente and the 240 acre grass fire that came close to homes.

    A 5-station model barely cuts it and with aid being limited from Confire, in the coming months more of east county will “get it”.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath on the BOS doing something.

    • @ In the Know,

      Actually the BOS are doing something. They are closing more fire stations, with the next one set to close in Jan. of 2012….that’s 5 short months away. You are right, it appears aid is coming to an end.

      Since the fire districts & BOS cannot print money and we voted down a base level of funding, then the next actions should not come as any surprise. As it turns out, we actually get what we pay for.

  7. I agree with Captain Klutz. I voted NO for the measure. Primarily because I’m not going to be nickled and dimed. I pay $6,500 a year in property taxes, 17% of our income in state and federal tax, 8-10% sales every time I buy anything, $920 a year for vehicle registration. How much more should I pay for something that should already be included in the $6,500 a year I pay in property taxes? I’m all for paying my fair share, but the thing is, I really think I already do. The board needs to rework the budget.
    I’ve lived in Brentwood 6 years and never called 911. Some of the calls are ridiculous . How about charging people $250 every time they need a fire truck/AMR? Charge $500 for frivolous calls. File claims on insurance carriers when they respond to accidents. I’m purposing “Cost Recovery for Fire Based Emergency Services”. I believe our city can pass an ordinance to do this, but I’m not a lawyer or politician.
    What’s really casing problems are the calls our firefighters respond to! How do you run yourself over? With your own car. When it’s parked. And no ones in it? As long as people like this live amongst us, we have a problem. The cuts would be bad enough if people didn’t take advantage of the fire department.

    • BrentwoodMomof3,

      I am sorry to hear that you voted no for the measure. Your vote unfortunately affected more than you and your household. It affects all of us. I am not sure how you are being nickel and dimed. For the most part property taxes (which are the primary source of funding for the fire department) went down in east county. While they are slowing going back up they still have not reached their pre-recession levels. This means two things; You are probably still continuing to pay less for a service that wasn’t properly funded in the first place. In case you care, you can blame Sacramento for that. Local jurisdictions (city and county) have no say in how your property taxes are divided and disbursed. Again, thank your politicians in Sacramento for that. This transcends opinion-it’s fact.

      I agree, it is expensive to live in our country, state, county and cities. Would you rather live in a 3rd world country where taxes are questionable at best? If you actually believe what you wrote; “I’m all for paying my fair share, but the thing is, I really think I already do.” Then you thought wrong and should have voted yes instead of no. It has been spelled out multiple times, multiple ways. East county fire operates on a shoe string and a budget that was apportioned in the 1970s and hasn’t changed since. “The board needs to rework the budget.” Really? Have you been following this? Not only has this board “reworked the budget” but so has every board before them. Board after board. They all end up at the same conclusion. There is no money under the current prop #13 formula. Only those in Sacramento can change this, but that means taking or taxing more.

      So shall we do the circle dance yet once again? Maybe you could suggest volunteers or not sending fire department people to medical emergencies. We seem to be on a hamster wheel at this point in time until people like you will need to dial 911 and no one shows up.

      As for your solutions, they all seem to be the same. Passing the buck. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that the city cannot simply pass an ordinance for a district…..What is with the “People like this” comments? Are you saying they should legislate out all of the “people like this” aka; the stupid people? Careful, there might be no one left.

      3 kids and you never had to call the fire department? You only pay 17 percent in Fed/State taxes? I would consider you one lucky mom.

      • I thought I would comment to give those of you who really know your stuff a glimpse into why someone voted no, and why we’re in this predicament. I’m not being condescending at all! I really did read about this and made the best decision at the time. 
        I’ve really never called 911, never needed a fire truck at my house. The city of Tracy and Folsom charge a fee for fire response. Since I normally don’t criticize without a suggestion, I thought this was a fair idea. I could be completely wrong.
        The “problem” is you have people like me who really think they pay their fair share. I bought my home after the recession, and this year saw a modest increase, which now takes me to the highest amount I’ve ever paid for property taxes. I did write my legislator and tell him I care and that this needs to be looked at. 
        I’m not trying to do a circle dance, just expressing to those of you who don’t see why this didn’t pass, why I voted no. 
        I see some of the calls the fire department goes to, and really? Every time you dial 911, a fire fighter puts his life on the line to respond. It’s not something that should be taken lightly, and I believe we have a community who takes making that call lightly.
        Due to $1600.00 a month in health care, 9% in pension contributions and charitable contributions, we pay just shy of 17% in income taxes. I just believe there is another solution besides raising taxes, again I could be totally wrong. What will happen next time? Do we raise them every couple years? Maybe that is the solution. 

        • @ BMomof3,

          All good points. I think at this point in time many of us have come to the conclusion that some of the people that voted no will never change no matter what the facts are. However, there are a great many who were on the fence and those that now know they were duped. The current reality of diminished emergency services is now front and center and has served as a wake up call. If that is not enough, things can and will get worse. That is just how things work and how the world turns.

          I understand that you believe that you pay your fair share, and in many cases you probably do. In emergency services you don’t, and you cannot lump all taxes together. Our tax system is not set up that way and is most likely never going to change. I also understand why you are frustrated with you property taxes but they tend to be a standard no matter which county you live in. They are based on a fixed percent of your home value, whether you live in Tracy, Folsom or Brentwood. So if you are paying more, then you probably bought a more expensive home than your previous one.

          You mentioned your 1,600 a month health care costs. That is the 1,000 pound elephant in the room. Pensions and pension costs….. Look closely and you will see the factor that continues to escalate beyond belief is Health Care costs! Yet no one pulls that from the equation. The taxpayer gets screwed, the employee gets screwed and the employer gets screwed. It is the variable that is making the overall cost of service so damned expensive. That is one of the issues we should be discussing.

          Seriously, consider yourself fortunate. I wish I only had to pay 17 percent in Fed/State taxes and only had a 6,500 property tax bill.

          I don’t know about which calls are more important or which communities put more or less of a burden on the fire department. I am not really that sure if it matters. I have said it before, they don’t get paid by the emergency call. They are already on the clock so what does it hurt if they are actually running emergencies for those that think they are in need? We seem to have a good system that needs to be adequately funded because it was never adequately funded. How do we get there begs the question?

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