A beautiful thing occurred Sunday morning for the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District as they were able to re-open Station 94 in Knightsen because of a SAFER Grant from FEMA. The station is now staffed with three personnel and increases service in the area by 25%.
“The opening of the fire station and the rehiring of the employees is great news for the communities we serve, however, this is a short-term fix for a long-term problem for the fire district. Yesterday starts the clock ticking on a 24 month grant,” said Chief Hugh Henderson.
In June, 15 firefighters were laid off, 8 of them have now been re-hired. With the opening of the station the District has reinstated three engineers back to the rank of captain (Totten, Bennett, and Guerrero) brought back three engineers (May, Copple, and Wentz), reinstated three firefighters back to engineer (Baitx, Tanner, and Grima), and rehired five firefighters (Dillon, Johnston, Laughlin, Miller, and Somerhalder).
Even with the re-hires, it’s been a long process since June.
“ECCFPD received a $7.9 million dollar safer grant. What is a major concern is that it has taken until November 18th to hire back the remaining laid off fire fighters in order to take advantage of the grant,” said Vince Wells, Local 1230 President. “Despite the fact that the grant is for enough money to pay the personnel cost for the three fire stations that were closed, they will only be able to open one of them this year, It takes 9 fire fighters to open each station, and only eight of the laid off firefighters were willing to return. Six received jobs at other higher paying and more stable departments.
According to Chief Henderson, the District is still recruiting for new firefighters with the application deadline closing on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. The District hopes to reopen station 54 downtown Brentwood in the spring of 2013.
“Due to the low pay, the hiring pool has been minimal. Fortunately the Safer Grant managers from the Federal Government have been patient and willing to work through many of the issues the district is currently facing. Due to the pay and benefits paid out to the ECCFPD, they have been only able to attract entry-level personnel fresh out of college or fire fighter 1 academy’s,” said Wells.
While the station opening is obviously a great thing for the community, it’s only a 2-year window as the clock is now ticking.
Revenue for the District will still be a concern going forward and I would hope the new board begins working immediately on another revenue enhancement when Brentwood appoints its new members in early 2013. While $197 may not be the answer, a lower figure will be needed and its just a matter of how much.
I would also encourage folks to take a deeper look into Mr. Wells comments because while no one wants to hear it, he is speaking in truth.
By Michael Burkholder