The news hit Contra Costa County neighborhoods over the weekend: four fire stations are on the verge of shutting their doors – for good.
The move comes after Fire Protection District Chief Daryl Louder said the county had burned through $25 million in reserves. When voters did not pass Measure Q – a $75 per parcel tax measure – in November, the question shifted from if fire stations would close to which ones.
They include Station No. 4 on Hawthorne Drive in Walnut Creek, No. 11 on Center Avenue in Clayton, No. 12 on Shell Avenue in Martinez, and No. 16 on Los Arabis Avenue in Lafayette. That would leave the total number of district stations to 24 when the closures go into effect January 1, 2013.
Louder said he and the Operations Division chose the aforementioned four using factors such as:
- Call volume
- Community risks: number of refineries, hazardous materials, high density living
- Ability of surrounding stations to absorb work
- Proximity of mutual aid and partner agencies
Contra Costa County Supervisor Karen Mitchoff said she needs questions answered during the Tuesday afternoon meeting before she agrees to shutting down the four stations, two of which are in her district. “I believe there’s a lot of misunderstanding in the community about which station has more or less call volume – and that wasn’t included in the report. So, I’m asking for that information ahead of time.”
Mitchoff had been a big proponent of Measure Q. Without that extra revenue, she said fire station closures are the only way to move in the right direction and save an estimated $3 million. “If we don’t close stations, we’re going to be deeper in the hole and that creates more problems down the road.”
For Fire Captain Roger Harless, who works at the Clayton fire station that may be closed, the danger goes beyond loss of day-to-day service. He pointed out that many homes and streets wind up into the foothills of Mount Diablo, leading to a large threat of wildland fires to get out of control.
The bulk of emergency calls, he added, aren’t even for fires – they’re for medical emergencies. “And if you’re not breathing, you have brain death in just four to six minutes. The seconds are critical.”
These station closures are expected to impact beyond the immediate neighborhoods. Every fire requires crews from five stations to respond, which means that the communities that surround any fire station that’s shut down may also face longer response times. Rich Lezcano lives right across from Fire Station No. 4 in Walnut Creek.
He and his neighbors have been discussing the closure over the weekend. He said they’re worried about what will happen if a fire ever starts where they live – near the Mount Diablo State Park, a wide open space.
“When you think about how close the service is, you don’t really think about it until it’s gone I guess.”
So far, there are no talks about firefighter layoffs. Mitchoff warned it’s not completely off the table with a couple more stations slated for closure in July at the start of the next fiscal year. Tuesday afternoon’s Board of Supervisors meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. and is open to the public.