Now that the Knightsen Fire Station has re-opened, the next question is when will the Downtown Brentwood Station (Station 54) re-open? This is a fair question that has not really been answered. Instead, rumors are being floated out there with no real target date set which is unfortunate.
The Contra Costa Times reported last week that Chief Henderson expects the First Street facility to open sometime next spring which could mean anywhere from February to May. That seems a ways away considering the $7.8 million grant was accepted back in September and the clock began ticking November 18 on the 24-month funding.
Over the holiday, I spoke with a number of firefighters who stated they have been hearing a time frame of March or April—no definite date has been given. Flabbergasted by this time-frame, I emailed Chief Henderson this morning and asked him about the estimate of “spring”.
This was his response to my question:
I was speaking to some of the firefighters over the Holiday and they had told me the downtown Brentwood station would be opening in March/April of 2013 instead of mid-January. Can you confirm? I noticed the CC Times used the word “spring” to describe the timeline.
We are working to open the station as soon as possible; however, we will need to hire nine firefighters prior to opening the station. Applications for new hires close last Tuesday. The testing processes start December 6 with the written tests. After the written tests there are interviews, background checks and medical exams that need to take place. Then there will be 4 to 6 weeks of training. The reason I told the Contra Costa Times spring of 2013 was that I do not have an exact date
While not having an exact date is suspect at best, not having the month available is unacceptable considering the Grant was accepted with a 24-month window in September. That gave them around 60-days to open Knightsen (November 18) which means dual hiring should have been done to ensure downtown Brentwood opened at the very worst a month later than Knightsen–not nearly six months later as some firefighters are stating.
While it may be easy to blame this botched process entirely on the Chief, keep in mind he is stuck working within parameters which means this falls on a Board of Directors who are apparently asleep at the wheel for allowing this pace to occur. What they should be doing is showing an urgency here to get stations back online.
Maybe the Board should consider meeting twice per month until the Station re-opens to ensure the process is moving along quickly? At the very least, this shows dedication and urgency. The Board should also begin investing some time in Media Releases to keep the public aware and educated on the process. After all, there was no attention to the Knigthsen Station opening until after it happened. It was a missed opportunity by the Chief and the Board to highlight just how vital these stations are to the area.
I am sure some would have showed up to welcome the guys back! I know I would have.
Another thing I want to hit on is the Contra Costa Times reported that 134 people applied for the District. This is misleading for the simple fact that while 134 may have applied, it doesn’t mean 134 are qualified or will pass the written tests, there interviews, background checks and medical exams. If they pass that, there is no guarantee they will make it through the 4-6 weeks of training. Even after all that, they could take employment elsewhere with full-time status where they are not being funded through an expiring grant. And if you remember, Local 1230 President Vince Wells stated last week that due to the low pay, the hiring pool has been minimal–meaning the quality is not there.
The sad part is Brentwood (and the District) is only going to be serviced with two stations (in Brentwood) for around 20 months instead of the full term of the grants intention. It also means you have firefighters applying for a temporary position for a much shorter period of time which means the higher quality firefighters will continue to look elsewhere. Or those hired, will continue to have one foot out the door.
Our firefighters deserve much better than the cards they have been dealt by the Board, the Chief and the voters. In return, those actually needing service pay the price. Yes, Measure s was demoralizing, but the Board needs to move forward and begin shaping their message now. Stop worrying about the past and move forward. Your not going to win votes during the next go around by remaining silent about the Grant. Embrace it and start using it to your advantage by highlighting how its going away in 24-months because in all reality, it will not be renewed by the Federal Government.
The other side of this is that with the re-hires and Knightsen opening, some of the firefighters have been re-promoted to their old positions, but now you have another set of guys who are also waiting to be re-promoted. This snails pace is a slap in their faces and its not right.
While it may be easy to play Monday morning quarterback, lets stop with the vagueness and lets start dealing with reality with some real timelines. We at least deserve that instead of playing guessing games.
Those putting their lives on the line to protect us deserve the same courtesy.
(Update: 12:30 pm)
Of the 134 people that applied, only 10 from the CPF Displaced Firefighters list (the state wide layoff list) actually applied for the District due to apparent low pay and benefits being offered.
By Michael Burkholder