I had the opportunity yesterday to visit with the guys from Fire Station 95 in Bethel Island and if you have never seen the station, I suggest a visit because it’s a real eye opener of how much these guys do with very little to work with.
Upon first looking at the station, I was surprised that they are even allowed to operate out of it—especially with a portion of the building being condemned in the spring of 2008 due to lead paint, mold, and asbestos. The only non-eye sores at the location were the two beautiful fire engines and the American flag hanging proud!
The pictures below highlight what a disgrace this building is and the tools they have to work with. Our guys deserve better, much better! They have been living in a FEMA trailer that was supposed to be temporary—four years later, it’s still there. I’d like to know what the Boards definition of “temporary” is. Bethel Island citizens deserves better tools to ensure those put in charge of protecting them can do so in the best possible way.
Aside from the pictures, here are a few observations:
- Condemned due to mold on a portion of the station
- Tin shed is falling a part
- Cold and dingy – little control of heat or cold
- No carpet in their supply/workout room
- FEMA trailer is decent, but it’s not ideal – pretty depressing if you ask me.
- Lack of a conference room if there is a visitor
- Shared water w/building next door – power goes out, they have no water at the station
- Water gives off a strong sulfur smell
- Firefighters really have nowhere to decompress after an incident
- No cover between trailer and station when it rains
As bad as the building was, I felt like a little kid in a candy store standing next to the rig and being able to sit in it while they gave me a tour of the engine. As they did a round on the island, I was able to follow them in my truck to see some areas of concern on the island—I noticed there are no fire hydrants anywhere other than downtown.
I must say these are a wonderful group of guys, who are humble, fun to be around, smart, and know their stuff. I would encourage you to spend some time with them and get to know what they are about as I bet it surprises you. This is not just a job to these fine firefighters, they want to help the community in non-emergency situations, they want to interact, and they want to work with youths.
Unfortunately, politics have done damage to the image of this wonderful and important career. These guys are unfairly lumped into government waste due to the State budget, pension, healthcare and all that nonsense that should not apply. The reality is, fire is something that should be embraced and investments should be made because without appropriate safety, we are all in danger.
Remove the politics and these are some of the most productive citizens in East Contra Costa County—salute them, don’t crucify them because the fire Board is asking for with the Parcel Tax in order to provide the tools needed to allow these brave men and women to protect you and I. These guys are not a bunch of government mooches, these guys are productive and want to do more for the community.
The thing that stood out to me was that both Gil Guerrero and Robert Ruddick explained that they want to do more in the community both before and after incidents. They understand they deal with people on their “bad days” and they understand that is the job they signed up for, but they also want to improve customer service with stronger follow up before incidents with education efforts while being a support system after an incident.
They explained how they would like to check in with people who may have required medical care or had a structure fire, send cards, send packages and simply be a rock of support for the community—but staffing levels and budget make it difficult to do on a level that is required to be effective. One thing that was clear was both Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Ruddick do not want to come in for a shift and go home when it’s over; they want to invest time in the community to make it a better place for all.
One example is Mr. Ruddick explained how Bethel Island has poor visibility and addresses are difficult to see. He worked to begin a program to upgrade visibility and replace the signs so when the team responds to calls, they can find the address much quicker—he noted that it’s an ongoing program and there is still work to be done, if I remember correctly, he mentioned they received a grant from Fremont Bank for supplies. But this doesn’t help just fire, it helps the mail services, police, ambulances, residents find each other—this is just one small example.
I could go on and on about these guys, but the point is, even with a poor station, these guys look past what they don’t have and work towards being the best they can be given the circumstances. They are creative in their solutions and are community driven.
Next time you see our East County Firefighters, please salute them and show your support. I promise you, they are worth every penny given with what they have to work with!