Contra Costa (Calif.)--Starting next month, East Contra Costa Fire District will scale back to three stations but have three firefighters on each engine.
On the advice of Fire Chief Hugh Henderson, other firefighters and numerous residents, directors on Monday approved the proposed configuration in a 5-4 vote before a near-capacity crowd.
"I have to defer to that expertise," said board President Kevin Romick, noting that Contra Costa County Fire District's chief also recommended the model.
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.
The board's hand was forced by the failure of Measure S at the polls last week, a parcel tax measure that would have propped up the financially distressed agency for the next 10 years.
Hard-hit by a drop in property tax revenue over the past four years, the fire district has been deficit spending and expects to finish the fiscal year on June 30 with a scant $500,000 in reserves.
But voters rejected the idea of a parcel tax that would have started at $197 per year and increased by up to 3 percent annually until it reached $257 in 2021-22, when it was scheduled to sunset. That defeat at the polls left the district, with its savings almost exhausted, no choice but to live within its means.
In opting for the three-station, three-person engine configuration Monday, directors rejected two other proposals. One called for keeping four stations open but placing just two firefighters on each engine; the second would have had two-person engines at three stations and three-person engines at the fourth.
None in the audience who spoke on the matter thought putting fewer than three individuals on an engine was safe or effective, however.
There's too much happening at the scene of a fire and, in many cases, a medical call, for two firefighters to handle everything, they said.
Moreover, speakers noted that when a pair of firefighters enters a burning structure, there must be at least one other person who stays outside to provide backup.
"You have to have enough people there to do something," said Brentwood resident David Ciappara.
Pregnant with twins, Carolyn Prince pointed out that if she needs emergency help when she goes into labor, two pairs of hands might not be enough.
"We have three patients now, not just two," said the Knightsen resident.
Comment Now: Post Your Thoughts & Comments on This Story