BRENTWOOD (KPIX) – Some residents in the East Bay are going to have to pay for emergency fire services that millions of people get for free.
Within a few months, East Contra Costa Fire Protection District will start charging when they respond to car accidents, hazmat situations, illegal fires and water emergencies.
They’re calling it the Cost Recovery Program. The charges range from several hundred dollars, to thousands of dollars for complex incidents.
For example, the fee for a car accident will be $487 dollars per engine, per hour.
“It’s definitely crazy to charge people,” said Neeka B. “That’s gotten into accidents and stuff. That’s outrageous.”
Many people feel the same way.
“I can’t say I’m happy with it,” said Jeanette Parks of Brentwood.
“They should collect it some other way, not on the backs of me being hurt when needing the service,” said Crystal Ramie-Adams.
The fire chief says it’s the last resort. They need the money. District voters have struck down parcel tax increase measures to fund the agency in recent years.
“It’s not sustainable. The system we have is not sustainable for our members or citizens. So we have to find additional revenue,” said Chief Brian Helmick in a phone interview.
East Contra Costa Fire Protection District only has three stations and covers a large area, including Brentwood, Oakley, and Discovery Bay.
The chief says the current fire protection is not adequate and their response times are slower than the state average.
“The revenue that we have, it’s a revenue issue, not a spending issue,” said Helmick.
He says they’ll waive the fees in certain situations.
Still, people are upset.
“Sounds like you’ll get charged twice. Cause you’re paying your taxes, and then now you’re going to get charged every time you call them out,” says Contra Costa County resident Mike Brown.
“They do hard work,” said Ramie-Adams. “But I don’t want to pay for a service that’s complimentary everywhere else in the world.”
The cost recovery program could start as early as November. The chief says if voters pass a tax measure to fund the department, they have the option to cancel the program.