Saturday, July 13, 2013



When I wrote Part 1 of this article back in the beginning of February of this year addressing the closure of our own fire station here in Clayton, it was my intention to follow-up with Part 2 immediately after.  However, because circumstances regarding this issue were changing on a daily basis, and the fact I personally didn't believe that things would ever get to this point, I decided to hold off with posting it. 
Much to my surprise and sadness, things have progressed to the point of critical and I'm very concerned of what may lay ahead for all us residents here in Contra Costa County.  


Another Contra Costa County fire station, Station 87 in Pittsburg, closed on Monday, July 8th.  Station 87 is the fifth fire station to close since voters rejected Measure Q in the last November election.  Measure Q, if passed, would have allowed a property tax increase to take effect and avoid station closures, at least for this year. 

Now seven months later, after warning the public of the consequences for failure to pass Measure Q, the district is keeping its promise to close stations if more revenue did not come in.  Well, it hasn't, it isn't, and another fire station, to be determined later, will close by the beginning of next year.

In a statement to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, the fire department's chief engineer, Daryl Louder, said " I have serious doubts about our ability to provide fire protection for our community and I have serious concerns about our personnel operating out there." meaning of course, concerns for their safety.

Supervisor Mary Piepho agreed with the fire chief and reiterated his concerns by saying "The service level deficiencies are seriously negatively affecting our communities and the safety of our personnel and it's really a sad set of circumstances." 


From the union's perspective, it is about has bad as it can get and about to get much worse.  Back on May 26th of this year, I, along with other members of the San Jose Police and Fire Retiree Association, received an email from The United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230.  In his email, Local 1230 President Vince Wells requests the help of other Bay Area firefighters in attempting to prevent further "unsafe staffing reductions to our brothers and sisters in Contra Costa County." 

Below is the email in its entirety:

"The United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County, Local 1230 need your help!  We are especially requesting the help of those of you who live within any of our jurisdictions.  The Contra Costa County Firefighters are saying "Enough is enough".  We cannot sustain any further cuts to our daily staffing levels.

The politicians of this county have allowed the newspapers and the County Tax Association to put our communities at risk in search of a new service model that does not exist.

As firefighters it has always been us who fight to assure adequate staffing and coverage for our communities despite the efforts of local politicians to shift funds for their "special interest" and personal projects.

Contra Costa County, the 5th largest County in the State of California, is headed in the direction to be the 58th in the level of public safety it provides for its citizens. 

We feel this disregard to assuring adequate response to emergencies within our jurisdiction, our surrounding jurisdictions, and to the State of California, is a travesty, and is in need of action from all firefighters who live in the community or in our surrounding jurisdictions.

So far our Board of Directors have cut 6 of our 30 engine companies and closed four of our firehouses.  Instead of looking for new revenue sources, the plan is to cut two more this fiscal year.  They plan to close one more fire station in July 2013 and then another in January 2014.  This will leave us with a total of 22 stations staffed with three, to cover a million people and over 600 square miles.  It doesn't stop there because more cuts are promised in FY 14/15.

Please come out and help us with your support.  We want our Board and the community we protect, to know the importance of our services within the community.  Members of our public have failed to show up to help with our fight, so we are counting on our fellow firefighters!"

JULY 2, 2013

On July 2nd, just two days before the busy fourth of July holiday, Local 1230 issued a press release to the public warning of recent incidents where both districts, Contra Costa County Fire and East Contra Costa County Fire, were unable to provide enough resources to respond to all the calls for service.

"Both systems were tested today, and both were dangerously overwhelmed, leaving areas without coverage for long periods of time" according to Mr. Wells.  Wells elaborated further by describing today as "quite embarrassing" after discovering both districts had to rely on smaller surrounding departments to help cover areas that at times were reported to be without coverage for up to six hours. Wells pointed out that Contra Costa County Fire was always the agency in the East Bay to provide assistance to the smaller departments in the area.  However, "now we have become the ones in need" sullenly admits the union president.

The incident that Mr.Wells is referring to, and perhaps some of you recall, was the 80-acre grass fire just off Kirker Pass Road bordering the cities of Concord and Clayton (Behind the SleepTrain Pavillion).  Although some homes in the area were threatened for a brief time, this relatively small incident should not have affected the district's ability to provide coverage for it's customers.  What would have the outcome been were this a wind driven fire of approximately 1,000 acres and threatening homes? Contra Costa residents dodged a bullet this time and were very lucky CalFire was available to assist with engine companies and two helicopters making water drops on the head of the fire.  As we progress farther into the summer months, the likelihood of CalFire's availability shrinks with each passing day, leaving Contra Costa County Firefighters in a very dangerous and frustrating position. 


As with most issues such as this, there certainly is plenty of blame to go around.  The County Board of Supervisors blames the taxpayers, the union blames the supervisors, and the taxpayers blame the unions.  But who really is to blame for this train wreck?

In Part 3, which I promise will be coming hot off the heals of this article, I will be discussing  that very issue, who is to blame.

And because it would be just like a typical moaner and complainer to gripe about something without a solution, in Part 4,  I will be writing about some solutions out there being talked about by the experts and politicians.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District in conjunction with the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, serve the cities of Antioch, Pittsburg, Martinez, San Pablo, Pleasant Hill, Concord, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Clayton, and all unincorporated areas of the county which include El Sobrante, Clyde, Pacheco, North Richmond, Tara Hills, Bay View and Bay Point. 


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