I am going to look at this recap a little bit differently than the other news media sites where their focus was on cutting stations and loss of firefighters, I am looking at last night as the first step in moving towards an even greater problem for East County and its residents.
Let’s face it, there was no good decision last night, all of the models would reduce service and put a stress on the remaining firefighters who will no doubt be running around with their heads cut off after July 1. There is just too many service calls to handle for three stations. The remaining firefighters will feel burnout, be at higher risk of injury, while the public will soon feel the effects of longer response times.
The sad thing about last night is the fact next year is flying over people’s heads. Another station will likely close if planning is not done today. Director’s Jim Frazier and Director Steve Barr alluded to it, The numbers allude to it—we have a bigger problem next year as we may drop down to two stations!
What people do not realize and it went over the media’s head in their reporting is the County Assessor’s Office will likely be reducing values of home which means less property tax paid towards the District—this could mean another closure next year and with the way costs are increasing, it would have likely happened anyway.
This all goes back to the argument that the District does not have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem which is why Measure S was so important. I hate taxes just like most people and would typically never support any increase, but it was the responsible thing to do as it bought 10 years to fix the problem once and for all while services remained.
With all that said, kudos are in order to ECCFPD Board Members Kevin Romick, Jim Frazier, Pat Anderson, Joel Bryant and Bob Kenny, I salute each of you for making the tough decision on voting for a 3-station model for the best interest of the entire District. While none of the choices were good ones, they picked the best of the worse choices.
Brentwood made its anticipated power grab for resources and failed—at one point, Director Steve Barr suggested moving the Discovery Bay station to Knightsen while Director Erick Stonebarger tried to justify going back to two-man crews due to staffing levels in 2002. Director Bob Brockman seemed along for the ride agreeing with them with Director Cheryl Morgan also on their side.
Effective July 1, half of the district’s six stations will close — one each in Bethel Island, Knightsen and Brentwood — and 16 of its 43 firefighters will lose their jobs.
What was sad about last night’s vote was none in the audience last night who spoke on the matter of service models thought putting two-guys on an engine was a good idea or effective use of resources. Three Brentwood officials and one at large decided they were smarter than the Chief, the firefighting professionals and the many public speakers—which some were from Brentwood encouraging the three-man crew. No one wanted the hybrid but they still tried for it.
That’s being out of touch with your constituency and Brentwood should have a serious look at Mr. Barr and Mr. Brockman come November when they are up for re-election. Last night was nothing more than trying to get votes for their council run.
Second off, kudos to Gill Guerrero for going on record and calling out the opponents of Measure S liars while he specifically mentioning the Contra Costa Times for writing article after article of false facts. He was the only one who said what most people in that room were thinking. He is a leader and that is what this district severely needs right now.
Had the lies of the “gang of six” spread, no one in the media attempted to correct them! The Contra Costa Times was the public relations machine of this group of people and lied time after time while many letters to the editors providing false information was published. The six individuals are listed below including the Times Editorial Board.
Thirdly, the effects are tragic as Bethel Island can now be officially become known as “Burned Down Island” because that is what is going to happen. Crews will not be able to make it their in time to save a structure; the best they can hope for is to save a neighbor’s home—I pray for the medical sake of the people on that island AMR is positioned to assist.
Going back to Steve Barr and Erick Stonebarger for a minute as they claimed they were voting based on number of calls. Well let me correct the both of them. They are going off total number of calls, not the percentage of calls to population. Bethel Island actually has the most calls per population percentage.
As of 2010, Bethel Island has a population of just 2,137, but had a total of 354 total incidents. That is 1 incident per 6 people while Knightsen averages 1 call for every 11 people. Compare that to Brentwood who has a population of 52,000 and had 1 call to every 16 people. While Oakley and Discovery Bay averaged 1 call for every 19 people.
The other side of this is each city in the District had better now be very proactive in ensure weeds and fields are trimmed—they are going to have to take a zero tolerance on this to ensure fire resources are not needed. It also ensures higher costs of maintenance for fire protection going forward. Massive public outreach on public safety should begin immediately to help reduce the need for services.
Below is a recap of the night, but while the Board made the best choice given three bad ones, the real problems are just starting as a long term solution must begin immediately.
Public Comments (paraphrased)
Cha-Cha: To be without a fire department, I can’t imagine it. The response time would be dangerous. We need a fire Department.
Dennis Lopez: Need to go back to partial volunteer fire department in Byron. Firefighters need a 50% pay cut—while he urged the District to give it back to the Board of Supervisors. Urged the board to cut wages or cut something else, but don’t cut our protection.
Sue DeVore: If we have to wait for help from Oakley, people will die. 2/3 of Bethel Island has health problems and need this help. If we have to wait 30-35 minutes then people are dead. Doesn’t our life count?
Clark Groseclose: “So you went for the double or nothing thing and you lost and now we all are going to pay for it”.
Gil Guerrero: Thank you for giving this (Measure S) a shot. I know taxes are high, but this is not from over spending, each of you on the board knows it. It’s from a loss of revenue. We lost because the opponents didn’t play fair. The opponents lied. The Contra Costa Times put out article after article that was wrong. To those who lied, shame on them!
Service Model Public Comment’s (paraphrased in some cases)
Kevin Graves: I urge this board to make the best of worse choices. 3 firefighters on an engine is the best way to go. When they show up, they can take actions.
Craig German: This is truly insane. East Diablo was a revolving door. This isn’t a sleepy fire district anymore. Everybody I know is a professional. I’d urge the board to go with a three station model.
Vince Wells: I ask the board to support the three station model It’s the safest model for our firefighters.
Ben Whitener: Stick with three person model. Look safety of the public and safety of the firefighters. I know what its like to respond with two-person crews. The public doesn’t get service (two-man crews), it’s like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. Mr. Whitener discussed his back injury and surgeries and how they were a direct result of two-man crews and being understaffed.
David Gross: Bethel Island is going to lose out. Something needs to happen to get our fire department back o Bethel Island.
John Ross (CONFIRE) – I support Chief Henderson and encourage the three station—three personnel model as its best way to ensure safety for the district and the firefighters.
David Ciappara: “You have to have enough people there to do something,” as he explained why he would encourage Brentwood to drop one of their stations in favor of a three station model. He explained how you want firefighters to do something when they are on scene. He understood it was his station that would close, but it’s for the best of the District.
Walter MacVittie: This revenue problem is not just something that popped up. I was a commissioner who predicted this train wreck years ago when the Board of Supervisors turned it over to this board.
Carolyn Prince Garner: “I am pregnant with twins. If I go into labor at home in Knightsen, I’m going to need three people there to help with my delivery because we have three patients now.”
Barbara DuMont: We need three men on rigs as she emotionally gave a touching story about her and her husband holding the head of a man during a car accident on her front yard years ago.
Note: this was a home run based off the emotional story used on the accident. Simply put, she gave one of the best reasons why two man crews don’t work.
Tish Whitener: Encouraged board to go with a 3 man crew to reduce risk of firefighters. She went on to explain the injury to her husband and what it’s caused to her family as her husband cannot pick up their daughter due to a back injury. This isn’t just about the firefighters, it’s about the effects two-man crews have on their families.
Note, I believe Ms. Whitener gave one of the most powerful speeches of the night and knocked it out of the park.
Mayor Romick announced both Supervisor Mary Piepho and CONFIRE Chief Louder sent messages in support of Chief Henderson’s recommendation.
Debate over Service Model
Director Barr: This is a solution that will be a short term solution because we will be back here next year because we just don’t have the revenue. We have a flat revenue stream with rising costs. The voters told us to live within our means, I get it. Instincts tell me to go with a four-station hybrid due to the medical calls (as well as call log figures which show most calls come from Brentwood). Said the board was looking at this in terms of response times, but he was looking at it from a service call standpoint noting that if there is a fire, every engine will go to it anyway.
Director Stonebarger: He asked a question for a history of how the district was formed which the chief answered two-man crews to start. Stonebarger essentially said that we have done that before and we can do it again. I am in favor of the four-station hybrid.
Director Jim Frazier: I’ve heard two chiefs tell me their suggestions with a combined 50 years’ experience while I am also hearing staff in the field tell me the same thing. I wholeheartedly support the three station model. I support what I feel is most sustainable with public safety. Frazier also explained how he received a notice from the county assessor’s office which will be possibly reduction in home values which means even less revenue for the ECCFPD.
Director Bob Kenny: I support the three station model. He went on to explain Bethel Island and how it’s in trouble and that there have been four major fires in the last thirty days.
Director Pat Anderson: It is a short term solution. We didn’t go for the gold, we went for public safety and I had to say that. We wanted to bring service up to where it could and should be. The safety for firefighters is just as important as safety of the public. Yes, we started with two man crews, but we are passed that. I support the three station model.
Director Bob Brockman: I appreciate the experience of the Chief and Captains, but it makes sense to have four stations. Four stations give better coverage as most calls are medical. Urge putting stations where most of the calls are as 80% of the calls are from four-stations. I am in favor of the hybrid.
Director Cheryl Morgan: We have to ask more of our firefighters than we have ever had to ask before. I am leaning towards the hybrid.
Director Joel Bryant: At first blush, the hybrid looks like the best horizontal coverage model. None of these options are good ones, they are all bad. But a two-man crew on medical is not enough. It’s easy to make this decision on numbers. I’d love to vote for the hybrid but having been there, I just can’t’. If I am hearing them (Chief & staff) saying this is the best way, I have to defer to their wisdom and experience. Go with the three station model.
Director Kevin Romick: I can also concur, I too defer to the experience (Chief & staff).
Before a motion went through, Director Stonebarger stopped it to hold more discussion about two man crews and noting that just because we are saying three stations doesn’t mean the station locations are set and stone and there should be discussion about that.
Director Barr jumped in stating we need to get closer to the service calls—specially mentioning the Discovery Bay Station should be moved to Knightsen.
Yay (5): Kevin Romick, Jim Frazier, Pat Anderson, Joel Bryant and Bob Kenny
Nay(4): Steve Barr, Bob Brockman, Erick Stonebarger, Cheryl Morgan
On a side note:
Out of all the anti-measure S folks who have been vocal. Just Walter MacVittie showed up and spoke. While I do not agree with the man, at least he showed up while the others failed to offer any input. I give him kudos for going into a room knowing he was the odd man out. We don’t have to agree, but it was civil.
Gang of Six Who Should be Held Responsible
While I am not encouraging retaliation or violence towards these individuals because they are entitled to their opinion, lies and providing misinformation is not opinion, it’s a blatant abuse to the public! I encourage folks to send postcards or letters after each incident as a reminder for what they did and how they lied and manipulated facts.
- CC Times Editorial Board (Dan Borenstein & Dan Hatfield neither live in District)
- Kris Hunt, Walnut Creek (out of District and led charge against Measure S).
- Dave Roberts, Oakley (signed argument against Measure S, Letters to Editors, comments on blogs)
- John Gonzales, Knightsen (Wrote letters to editor, wrote many comments on online blogs)
- Walter MacVittie, Discovery Bay (signed Argument Against Measure S + letters to editor)
- Jeff Barber, Discovery Bay/Truckee (Letters to Editor, submitted many comments online)