OAKLEY (KPIX) — During the Great Recession of 2009, East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District began closing fire stations, from nine down to only three. 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 spent driving to an incident.
“Throughout the majority of our territory, we should be within four minutes of response to any point in the area and we’re pushing anywhere from eight to 10 minutes at this point,” said East Contra Costa Fire’s public information officer Steve Aubert.
That’s a problem for people living in the remote Summer Lake development east of Oakley. They actually have a new fire station nearby provided by the developer but East Contra Costa Fire has never had enough money to keep it staffed.
“We have a very large retirement community out here,” said Summer Lake resident Juliana Petrosh. “Like I say, if someone has a heart attack or a medical emergency, ten minutes can be forever.”
East Contra Costa Fire only has three stations to serve 250 square miles with more than a quarter million residents. Now, the fire district board has begun looking into the possibility of dissolving itself to consolidate their existing resources into the county’s larger Con Fire district. here are more questions than answers about what that proposal might do.
“What does that mean?” Aubert said. “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 generally-conservative area. At present, Contra Costa County stands to benefit from two tax measures on the ballot: Proposition 15 and Measure X. But, because East Contra Costa Fire is a special district, it will not get any more money even if either of those passes. The district is considering whether, if it joins the county, they can finally benefit from tax measures approved by voters countywide.
“Does that mean that we have some sustainable, recurring funds that we can count on to increase those levels of services?” Auber wondered. “That’s everything that we’re trying to evaluate right now as well.”
Consolidation is a two-way street and the county would have to approve it. No one is sure if Con Fire would be willing to take over firefighting responsibility for that much territory when many residents don’t seem willing to pay extra to support it.