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Downtown Brentwood Fire Station Not Opening Until April?

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

Hugh Henderson

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

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Categorised in: East County, ECCFPD

26 Responses »

  1. I agree 100%. If this station does not open until April, people are not doing their job and some serious changes need to be made. Then again, voters deserve it.

  2. A lot of the Board is from City Council, they have no vested interest because their first responsibility is to the City they were elected to serve. Appointments will work the same way once Brentwood is done with their process. Only until an election is held for ALL SEATS will there be serious consequences to inactivity or proposal of old ideas such as a parcel tax which will fail. It should be election or bust for the District. Until a long term solution is created, games will continue to be played under this leadership with old ideas.

    A $197 parcel tax is not the solution and neither will a $50, $60, $70, $80, $90, $100 parcel tax they try to put on us in 2012. New solutions to fire service are needed.

  3. Anyone else find it odd that the Chief does not know when Brentwood will reopen? Something is not right with that statement. Spring is such an easy way out that it makes me wonder what else he doesn’t know.

  4. Did you really expect the laided off firefighters to sit around waiting for the voters to get their sh** together or the Fire Commission? Chief Henderson warned us that if and when we re-opened stations that it was going to take a while. Its not like a job at the local market where you interview one day and get hired the next. And there are STATE MANDATED requirements about the application process, hiring procedures and training. And these procedures take time. Hiring, training and getting a station opened by spring is an outstanding job in my books. Oh, and lets not forget that with the extremely low pay here, who the hell wants to work here? Off casts and failures from other agencies? People looking to get their foot in the door and lateral to other departments with better pay and benefits? Now the Fire Commission is a different story. Lets look at the City of Brentwood and the way they have held things up. Kindof hard to move forward when we are waiting on a group of people that think that they are way more important than they really are.

  5. Another solid piece Mr. Burkholder. While some reporters are satisfied with vague answers, you seek out real answers and nail it down. I completely agree that April is unacceptable and people at ECCFPD need to get their act together real quickly because with leadership like that, why would any of your firefighters want to stay in the District or come to the District? CONFIRE will soon shutter stations so we will feel your pain, but you guys are a real mess over there.

    Now that the cat is out of the bag on this timeframe, hopefully it speeds things up.

  6. Our brothers on the other side of the hill deserve better. I feel bad for them.

  7. What about Bethel Island’s Fire station? When will there be Fire Fighters on the Island again?

    • As much as I would like to see Station 95 re-open, its time to face the fact that it will not.

      • Station 95 is now an official historical structure (passed. by the Board of Supervisors in September) so it is now exempt from the flood plain rules and does not have to be elevated. It can be repaired and ready for use in a month or so. A licensed contractor has inspected the building and estimated the repair cost at around $25,000. Volunteers are ready and willing to work under his supervision. The Island is trying to raise money right now.

  8. With leadership like this, its no wonder why Measure S went down. I’d like to believe that a timeline and action plan was created when the grant was accepted. If the chief doesn’t know when a station is open, I’d say he is not the right man for the job and the board and firefighters should look at a way to resolve this.

  9. While I agree it is disheartening to not have a better idea of when the Brentwood station will open it is important to remember that the Fire Board has recently undergone a changing of the guard. I look forward to the direction our district will move especially with individuals sitting on the board who live or have lived the job in decision making positions. Above and beyond communication and extra mile transparency with the public is KEY. As residents in Oakley my family and I are very excited to see some of the firefighters lost when Measure S failed back on active duty with their fire family!

  10. Looks like the Chief was not being honest with the CC Times. He told them spring which may have been honest, but the firefighters apparently have a clearer timeline in mind. I guess it’s the Times fault for not pressing the chief for a better timeline and accepted “spring” as the answer. At least people know when they can expect their services to be improved.

    It’s sad that Mr. Burkholder is upset about those firefighters who are not yet re-promoted, they should just be happy they have a job. In 24-months they will be demoted again and then what? The real issue which Burkholder ignores is not the timeline of opening Brentwood, but the fact the District should never have accepted the grant in the first place. They should have instead spent their time working on a long-term solution which is further cutting, service model changes, and moving towards and elected board. Instead, Mr. Burkholder continues to promote a District that has failed and gives them a pass.

    • Come on Jill, what is the pay, benefits, service model, and long term solution you propose?

    • The reason that the firefighters have a good idea of when the downtown station may open is because they understand the hiring process. Many of the people posting here have no idea the many steps that are part of the hiring process. AND out of the 134 applicants, how many will make it through the application process and into training. Then they have to make it through training. Maybe the needed 9 but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  11. Update: 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.

    • If only 10 of a list over 100 applied, then they don’t deserve to work and the rules should change.

      • Let’s see if I’m following you.

        You expect to dictate substandard wages and when people don’t flock to it you want to be punitive toward them?

        Not only that, but since the list comprises all of California you’re expecting people to uproot their families in some cases, move here, knowing full well that in 18-24 months they could be put right back on the unemployment line? Because you have made it pretty clear you don’t plan to spend another dime for fire service.

        Think you might have your bar set a little high?

        In one message you’re pissed off they got the opportunity to be hired through the grant to the next post you’re pissed of they won’t apply?

  12. Seems to be Mr Wells and his boss have found a new way to yank your chain. And you were their supporter!

  13. Some of these comments are funny. Talk about ignorant. Even with the hiring process being slow, it doesn’t take six months.

  14. Julio-Antioch

    My Boss is the Fire Chief of Con Fire where I work, he has his own problems then to help me pull chains in ECCFD.

    On to the article.

    It takes at least 6 months to hire entry-level fire fighters. These are fire fighters who have never worked as a fire fighter anywhere or for a paid department.

    The Fire Chief and Board have control of how many firefighters to hire, what the minimum qualifications will be (within limitations), when the process starts, and how long the entry level academy is and when they are eligible to fill a seat on the engine.
    Once the Job is announced, the public has to be noticed for certain period of time, three week minimum. Once the announcement period is over, you have to allow time for the applicant to turn in the application, usually a 1 week minimum. Once all the applications are received, you have to schedule the written test. The written test is set up at a location that can accommodate the number of applicants. This test must be certified by the state to avoid challenges. Once the test is graded, the applicants who pass the test are notified and asked if they are interested in continuing on to the interview process. There is time necessary to set up the interview panel, and get the candidates scheduled. The number of qualified applicants and the panel availability impact the length of the process. Once the candidates are interviewed they then have to be rated. Depending on the number of candidates, this can take a few days. The next step in the process varies, some departments do a second interview, called the “chiefs” interview prior to giving a job offer. I don’t believe Hugh will be having a second interview. The candidates who make it through the written test and interview process are then given a “conditional job offer”. This means that if they are still interested, they must provide necessary document, successfully pass a psychological evaluation ( With a licensed Psychiatrist), pass a very detailed physical exam, and pass a background and finger print check. Depending on the number of candidates, the availability of the Psychiatrist, Back Ground Investigator, and the Medical Doctor, this can take several months. Many times candidates have to provide further documents or have to be interviewed further by any of the three if clarification is necessary. Once this process is done the remaining candidates have to be put into a fire academy. Most entry-level fire academies are at least three months long.
    One of the challenges for East County will be the number of candidates remaining with only 134 applicants if that is all they have. Many of them will be eliminated by the written test and interview process. The background check and physicals usually wash out many of those who make it to that point. In order to get 9 qualified candidates from start to finish, you will have to put more then double that amount through the backgrounds. You can expect to lose candidates from the academy as well. It is there where you find those who are afraid of heights , confined spaces, fire, or can’t handle the sight of blood. So may wash out due to physical conditioning and ability to perform tasks in a heated environment.
    I would say that “Spring” or April is an appropriate statement, you never know, you can only set a goal.
    As far as the Grant, FEMA will work with the Chief if he does not have the personnel to hire and needs to do it in phases. They have to ability to extend the Grant period based on the use of the Grant

    • Thank you Vince for spelling out the hiring procedures. We lost a lot of good fire fighters due to lay-offs that we must now replace. But with a pool of only 134, I don’t know if enough can get through the process and get the station open in April. Here is a question for all the complainers: What do we do if not enough applicants make it through the process? Lower our standards? Hire unqualified people? Hire people with serious issues in their backgrounds? How about the medical exam? Do you want to hire someone that is incapable of doing the job just to have a body? Face it, it takes time and if you want to blame anyone, blame those that voted no or didn’t even bother to vote.

  15. This article is a joke of a hit piece on Chief Henderson. The backseat driving by Burkhoulder and the rest of some of you are sad. Burkhoulder should apply for a seat on the commission instead of his consistent degrading of a chief who works 100 hour plus weeks for 40 hours pay and a Commission that works for free. Because only ten from a statewide list applied has little to do with pay. I agree with the commenter who said relocating and the fact that after two years the job may end funding as it relates to the low current state list applicants. What happened to the sixty local applications for volunteer? I would think some of those applicants not only have credentials but would love to get hired full time. I think the District is doing everything it can under the current contract and legal rules that they can. If you lose Henderson, it will take twice as long to move forward. I’m bet Henderson will throw in the towel just as soon as his pension can kick in. Don’t push him, he has worked well considering the pressure everyone places on him.

    • How do you know the 60 volunteers didn’t apply? All we know from the article is 10 from the Displaced Firefighters list applied. You really have no logic there Mr. FSF. For the record, this is the first negative fire article I’ve seen in over a year so to say he is a backseat driver is incorrect and that he is consistently degrading the chief is false.

      I actually think Burk is spot on by being upset Brentwood is not going to open until April timeframe. I am also pissed about this but there is nothing we can do given the timeline Mr. Wells pointed out.

    • What are you, an idiot FSF? Of course it’s because of the low pay. That is why half of the laid off guys went elsewhere. The laid off firefighters list has everything to do with pay because it lists all the open jobs. People aren’t going to move their families for a temp job for half the pay. It doesn’t add up. Burk had it right, its not all on Henderson, its mostly the Boards fault for putting Henderson and the firefighters in this poor position they are forced to deal with. Henderson is paid to work those 100+ hours for his salary, its called being a chief.

  16. Mike this is the first article that I dont see eye to eye with you on. 6 months is faster than the average hiring time in most departments. ECCFPD doesnt have this expansive full time HR department believe it or not. This article is giving people unrealistic expectations

  17. I have spoken with firefighters from different agencies and they all confirm the hiring time frame is about 1 year in other fire agencies.

    They are amazed that East County Fire would put new hires online after such a short training process of just a few weeks. Apparently most fire departments have a training program that lasts at least three to four months. If anything the fire department is fast tracking this, especially the training component. While we need the firefighters, rushing the process could prove to be dangerous.

    I’m not worried about the department lacking a full time HR department. My concerners would be more directed at the absence of a qualified training department and proper training facilities.

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