"There are no good answers when you are talking about closing fire stations," said Fire Chief Daryl Louder. "But we have run out of options. Our funding reserves have been exhausted."
The chief's list drew an immediate reaction from Lafayette City Manager Steve Falk, who urged concerned residents to make themselves heard on Tuesday. Lafayette is one of nine cities in the 600,000-resident district.
"While the city may appear to be over-stationed, Lafayette's narrow and winding public and private roads combined with few transportation corridors and large lot sizes lengthen response times, and thus necessitate more stations per capita," wrote Falk wrote in an email blast on Friday.
Louder is recommending county supervisors shutter about a third of the district's 28 fire stations, which will shave $3 million a year from its $102.4 million annual budget. Stations earmarked for closure are:
--No. 4 on Hawthorne Drive in Walnut Creek, which leaves the city with three stations.
--No. 11 on Center Avenue in Clayton, its only fire station.
--No. 12 on Shell Avenue in Martinez, which reduces the city's stations to two.
--No. 16 on Los Arabis Avenue in Lafayette, also cutting the number of fire stations to two.
The stations were chosen based on call volume along with proximity to other stations, risks such as refineries, and transportation corridors, Louder said.
Fewer firefighters means longer response times and greater chances that blazes will spread into neighboring homes, businesses or open spaces, the chief has repeatedly warned.
To blunt the impacts, the chief is looking at relying more heavily on neighboring fire districts, and establishing a beefier reserve and volunteer force.
Because more than 85 percent of the district's 41,500 calls a year involve medical issues, Louder said he will also consider hiring less expensive supplemental non-firefighter paramedics or emergency medical technicians.
Deploying medical-only personnel may make financial sense but the costs shouldn't come out of the fire district budget, countered Local 1230 firefighter union President Vince Wells.
Rather than form such a service within the fire district, the county should look to its ambulance service contract with American Medical Response, Wells said.
"We are an all-hazards fire district," Wells said. "Emergency medical incidents are an added value for the residents. But if we have to choose, we have to choose fire protection. EMS is the county's responsibility."
The fire district has been sinking into financial quicksand since 2008, when the recession gutted property values and its property tax receipts.
At the same time, the market downturn hurt public pension investments and drove up the district's retirement system contribution rates. The economic blows coupled with generous wages and benefits proved too much for the district to withstand.
Written by Contra Costa Times
Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix