OAKLEY (KPIX) — During the Great Recession of 2009, the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District began closing fire stations…from nine down to only three. And that’s where it still stands. Now the district’s board is considering voting themselves out of existence to change that.

From the time a call goes out, firefighters get ready to roll in about a minute and a half. The rest of the response time is driving to the incident.

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“Throughout the majority of our territory, we should be within 4 minutes of response to any point in the area. And we’re pushing anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes at this point in time,” said East Contra Costa Fire’s PIO Steve Aubert.

That’s a constant problem for people living in the remote Summer Lake development east of Oakley. They actually have a new fire station, provided by the developer, but East Contra Costa Fire has never had the money to staff it.

“We have a very large retirement community out here,” said resident Juliana Petrosh, “and, like I say, if someone has a heart attack or a medical emergency, ten minutes can be forever for someone.”

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East Contra Costa Fire only has three stations to serve 250 square miles and more than a quarter of a million residents. So now, the fire district board has begun looking into the possibility of dissolving itself and consolidating their existing resources into the county’s larger ConFire district. And right now there are more questions than answers about what that proposal might do.

“What does that mean?” said Aubert. “If we do consolidate, with the money that we already currently have, does that mean we can open up additional stations? Does that mean we can actually put more firefighters on the street any given day of the week?”

That’s what an independent evaluator will be assessing. It’s hard to get new taxes passed in the strongly conservative area. Currently, Contra Costa stands to benefit from two tax measures on the ballot…Prop 15 and Measure X. East Contra Costa Fire’s board has voted to support Measure X in the hopes it could lead to increased funding but being a special district, the county has no obligation to share the revenues if the initiative should pass. So the district is wondering if it joins the county, if it can finally benefit from tax measures approved by voters countywide.

“Does that mean that we have some sustainable, reoccurring funds that we can count on to increase those levels of services?” said Aubert. “That’s everything that we’re trying to evaluate right now, as well, too.”

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Of course, consolidation is a two-way street and the county would have to approve it as well. And no one is sure if they would be willing to take over firefighting responsibility for that much territory when many residents don’t seem willing to pay anything extra to support it.