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CC Times Highlights How Fire Districts Miss National Benchmarks


For whatever reason, the Contra Costa Times has decided to put out information about how out of 17 East Bay fire districts only Oakland meets key national measures of adequate fire protection. Seven districts or less than half fall short on all four accounts. This could have been printed at anytime over the last two years and the timing now is suspect.

While I can appreciate the gesture of the January 5 article by Lisa Vorderbrueggen, where was this article educating the public during the Measure S debate prior to the June vote? Where was this article prior to Measure Q vote this past November?

It’s not like this information popped up out of nowhere, it’s been known for quite some time that East Bay fire districts were not meeting national standards.

Heck, in East County we are the poster child for unsafe staffing levels as we came in dead last when you look at the firefighter per cappa.  East Contra Costa Fire Protection District is at 0.30 while the National Standard is 1-firefighter per 1,000 people.

According to the article, here’s a look at the specific industry recommendations and how local agencies stacked up in the survey:

  • Four firefighters per engine or truck; only Oakland follows the four-person National Fire Protection Association standard. Most use three.
  • One firefighter per 1,000 people in population; just less than half of the agencies met the minimum staffing level advised by the International City/County Management Association.
  • First unit on the scene within five minutes 90 percent of the time; more than two-thirds of departments failed to meet this benchmark developed by the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA. Contra Costa Fire had the worst performance in the East Bay at an average of nine minutes, 24  seconds. With four of its 28 stations set to close Jan. 15 after the failure of a November tax measure, this response time will likely lengthen.
  • Put at least 15 trained and equipped firefighters on the scene of a single-family residential structure fire within nine minutes, 20 seconds 90 percent of the time; less than one-third of the agencies meet the National Fire Protection Association recommendation.

Let’s me be honest, this information is nothing new, it was just kept out of print by the Contra Costa Times editorial Board during election season.  Instead of providing information to educate voters, the public received rhetoric of pensions and high salaries.

We again have Kris Hunt of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association popping off her mouth in the article that national standards are the following:

“They are firefighters’ unaffordable wishes and dreams,” said Contra Costa Taxpayers Association Executive Director Kris Hunt. “In a perfect world, we would have all these things. Unfortunately, we are trading services for firefighters’ high salaries and benefits.”

First of all, let me correct this simple minded mouth piece from a phony organization before she hurts herself as she continues the use of poor rhetoric. This is code word for contract reform, pension reform and service model reform—that is her belief and everything else is wrong. She wants engines stuck in stations to save on gas.

What she is not sharing is that prior to the housing bubble burst, salaries and pensions were not a problem. The housing market crashed and now it’s the firefighters fault? That is a bunch of nonsense.

Firefighter salaries nor pensions caused this fiasco, reduced property tax revenue did which can be traced back to greed of real estate agents, lenders and taxpayers. A majority of the public has no one to blame but themselves for reduced fire services, not the districts.

If you want to attack firefighters, attack real estate agents, lenders and banks in the same sentence. Essentially, all Kris Hunt and her association funder’s are doing is pointing fingers at firefighters, not their own  greed. It wasn’t the firefighters who bought and sold properties at outrageous rates. It wasn’t firefighters and a district who defaulted on loans or refinanced their homes to buy toys or go on vacations. It was Mr. Taxpayer who did that and eventually what goes up comes down and that is what occurred.

Yes, this is an outrageous position, but Mr. Taxpayer Association should not be throwing rocks from a glass house because they wish government to live within its means when Mr. Taxpayer and capitalism caused the housing meltdown—thus reducing income for fire services. If Mr. Taxpayer didn’t live within its means, then why have there been so many foreclosures? I rest my case!

So while the Times withheld this piece during the revenue enhancement debates and stations did actually close as some stated it was only a scare tactic, hopefully the honest debate can now actually occur with the paper printing both sides of the argument. If you recall, Local 1230 President Vince Wells had printed material that did not go to print.  A new round of proposed revenue enhancements is coming and its only a matter of how much. But this time, lets leave the rhetoric aside and lets be honest about the facts going forward so educated decisions can be made on safety, not ideological decisions.

This article was a nice start in putting real facts out there, lets hope the trend continues. A disagreement is fine, but changing facts and lying is not okay.  Still, the timing of this article is bothersome in the fact the information has been available. Many people have stated this information in public and it had gone unreported.  Instead, get this nice piece not during campaign season, but during a time when CONFIRE is closing stations.

The timing could have been better, but its a start.

By the numbers
Just less than half of the East Bay s fire agencies meet the minimum staffing level of one sworn personnel member per 1,000 people in the population, recommended by the International City/County Management Association. Here s the breakdown:


  • Alameda (city)* 1.29 Yes
  • Alameda County 0.95 No
  • Albany* 1.06 Yes
  • Berkeley* 1.06 Yes
  • Fremont 0.64 No
  • Livermore-Pleasanton 0.69 No
  • Oakland 1.07 Yes
  • Piedmont* 2.43 Yes
  • Contra Costa County 0.44 No
  • East Contra Costa 0.30 No
  • El Cerrito 1.26 Yes
  • Kensington 1.26 Yes
  • Moraga-Orinda* 1.62 Yes
  • Pinole 0.56 No
  • Richmond 0.85 No
  • Rodeo-Hercules 0.40 No
  • San Ramon Valley* 0.87 No

* Also operates ambulance service staffed with sworn personnel.
Source:  Staff research, Contra Costa and Alameda County fire agencies



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Categorised in: CONFIRE, Contra Costa County

4 Responses »

  1. A perfect reason why I don’t have a subscription to the Times anymore. This is good information that could have been useful last year. Heck, Burkholder showed how Borenstein withheld information given to him by Chief Louder. The paper is a joke and while I appreciate what Lisa tried to do, its too little too late. The only way tthe Times will figure it out is if people continue to cancel their subscriptions.

  2. Well stated. This issue was not brought on by pensions and salary. It was a loss of revenue. These people changing the rhetoric around should be ashamed of themselves and sued.

  3. The CC Times staff need to go take public safety 101 courses before they should be allowed to write about the topic. They have screwed up this debate so bad, peoples lives are now going to be in greater danger. Kudos to Vince Wells, Gill Guerrors, Mary Pieipho and Burkholder for fighting for safety when few others wouldn’t.

  4. This is the classic, Burkholder getting slammed when he is actually right for a change. People need to pay attention. Nice work Stanhope, now go get a haircut and look presentable.

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