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Four Fire Stations On The Chopping Block on Tuesday

The Board of Supervisors will consider a plan to shutter a Lafayette station and three others on Tuesday.

Fire and county officials on Tuesday will consider closing four fire stations, including one in Lafayette, to close a budget gap that has been growing since the recession of 2008.

The move is necessary, said Fire Chief Daryl Louder, due to the failure of a proposed parcel tax increase by two-thirds of voters on the Nov. 6 ballot.

In a report to the county Board of Supervisors, Louder said the 2008 recession caused deep reductions in property tax revenue, which primarily funds the fire district. Service levels were maintained until now through the spending of reserves.

To make up for the loss of property tax money, the fire district proposed a $75 per parcel tax in November. Measure Q received a majority of votes but not the two-thirds super majority it needed to pass.

And now “the reserve funds have been expended and the district can no longer afford to maintain current service levels,” Louder said in his report to the board.

Louder said the fire district is already falling short of meeting expected service levels and response times, and the closure of additional stations will only make matters worse. But the move will save the district $3 million.

The four stations proposed to be shuttered are:

  • Fire Station #4 – 700 Hawthorne Drive, Walnut Creek
  • Fire Station #11 – 6500 Center Avenue, Clayton
  • Fire Station #12 – 1240 Shell Avenue, Martinez
  • Fire Station #16 – 4007 Los Arabis Avenue, Lafayette

The four stations are slated to close in early January. Louder said he plans to take some actions, including using the reserve force to provide coverage for closed stations, increasing the number of emergency medical technicians during peak hours, and other efficiencies.

But Louder makes it clear that none of these steps will make up for the presence of the stations in these neighborhoods.

Louder will meet with the Board of Supervisors Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the board chambers, 651 Pine St., in Martinez.

What are your thoughts about this? Tell us in the comments. 

Chris Nicholson December 01, 2012 at 09:16 PM
in the long run, revenue must equal to (Price per unit of service) * (Quantity of units of service). R=P*Q. The politically easiest solution is to raise "R" (taxes) agains a threat of reducing Q (numbers or firefighters / locations). Why is "P" (all-in compensation per firefighter or per station) sacrosanct? My solution: roll back all-in compensation schemes toward what they were in in 1999 (but adjusting up for CPI inflation). I don't recall having fewer firefighters per square mile (or whatever) back then. What has changed?
Claire December 01, 2012 at 09:51 PM
The Los Arabis station has been closed for a while now; clearly not a "proposed" closure.
Quick Facts December 01, 2012 at 10:53 PM
The Los Arabis Station has been closed for several months due to problems with the building, the crew has been working out of the downtown Lafayette Station. As far as compensation, benefits, pension, etc. Consider these facts: Firefighters have voluntarily taken a 10% paycut rolling back their salaries to 2006 levels. In the past they have negotiated to pay a higher percentage of salary towards pension, which now puts Con Fire #1 in the nation for employee contribution to pension at almost 1/3 of their salaries. In addition they pay a larger portion of medical and health benefits, and have spouses and families that have been equally effected by this horrible recession. The cost per capita for firefighting service within the Con Fire District is much lower than surrounding districts, and Lafayette Residents do not pay a fire flow tax, that neighboring communities pay. The CC TImes and CoCo Tax Assn. have villified firefightes in the media quoting huge pensions by FIRE CHIEFS, like Orinda and San Ramon's. It is true that many Firefightes have decent pensions, but so would you if you were forced to pay $2700 per month for 33 years. For a current Captain the employee portion pays the entire salary for 30 years before touching one dime of Tax Payer money assuming a 5% annual rate of return over that entire time period. Read this: http://www.contracostalafco.org/municipal_service_reviews/fire_and_emergency_medical_services/CoCo%20Fire%20MSR%20Master%20-%20FINAL.pdf
lovelafayette December 01, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Hard to find statistic, any fireman have this number locally? How many old healthy fireman are there? How many years do their pensions pay before they die? " In [Ottawa, Canada] the average age of death of a fire fighter is about 15 years below the norm. Fire Fighters die here at about 65 years old on average compared to the provincial average of about 79..." I have had fire fighters as patients for many years but I never met an old firefighter. Their minds and bodies are assaulted on a daily basis - disease, toxics, heat,...Lots of other old workers- teachers, professors,scientists and barbers..not firepersons
lovelafayette December 02, 2012 at 12:02 AM
It makes sense to me that Lafayette is paid back by Con Fire with the loss of a (non-functioning) station. Support from the Lafayette City Council was mixed at best. Council initially publicly declined to support the measure when the union rep came to ask council for support, hat in hand. He was very clear about what would happen with a no vote - stations would close. Council waited until the last minute to endorse it, and never campaigned for the tax. Early Council endorsement and active support would have made a difference. Council did not act in our best interest.
Joshua Halloway December 02, 2012 at 12:11 AM
If it's closed why is the electricity still on? It ought to be demolished & the property sold.
Joshua Halloway December 02, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Nothing wrong with salary or benefits. Too many bodies. They should close another 4 each year until the budget balances. You don't cut pay to maintain too many bodies.
Chris Nicholson December 02, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Shorter life expectancies are a myth. http://www.newgeography.com/content/001145-police-pensions-and-voodoo-actuarials
lovelafayette December 02, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Thanks Chris, my N was fire fighters seeking help from a physician, no wonder they all were sick and many died young! You are a much better researcher than I, great link. Police and fire have different occupational risks so making them a group did not make sense to me, but there was plenty of other supporting evidence to make me accept you as a myth buster.
Just the Facts December 02, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Chris, actually your numbers are skewed a little. Here is the reason why. Calpers Safety members encompass: Prison Guards, Agricultural Inspectors, District Attorney Investiagators, Fire Inspectors, etc, etc. You get the idea, if you take just working firefighters (not chiefs or desk jockeys) and look at injury and death rates they are much higher than general members. Moot point anyways, because Con Fire, MOFD, San Ramon, all belong to CCCERA and not Calpers.
Joshua Halloway December 02, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Too many firefighters. Cut the number by a third. We will be just fine.
WENDY LACK December 02, 2012 at 07:43 AM
Studies by CalPERS (California's largest public pension plan) demonstrate that the average life spans for firefighters and police are identical to those of other public employees (office workers, engineers, inspectors, etc.). As I recall, the average life span for all three groups is age 86.
Steve Cohn December 02, 2012 at 04:34 PM
If someone started saving $2,700 per month 33 years ago and those savings earned at 5% interest (CCCERA's average rate of return over the past 10 years), those savings would have grown to $2.6 million today. If that person, now 50, were to retire and start drawing down those savings such that he could draw down 3.5% more each year (the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) CCCERA assumes) for 30 years, he could start drawing down $9,000 per month ($108,000 per year). But what would he have been earning 33 years ago? CCCERA assumes each employee's wages increase at 6% per year (3.5% inflation + 2.5% real growth for rank and longevity advancements). Deflating $9,000 per month at 6% means that this employee, if $9,000 is 99% of his base salary at retirement after 33 years, would have been earning $1,300 per month. This means that for him to save $2,700 per month at the start he would have had to save twice what he was earning or his employer would have had to contribute 200% of salary at the beginning.
Steve Cohn December 02, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Now if the employee and employer contributed a fixed percentage of salary over those years (not a fixed dollar amount), and after 33 years the employee retired at 99% (3% vested per year) of final year's salary, the employer plus the employee would have had to contribute 83% of salary each year (assuming the same 5% earning rate). Since the employees are contributing 24%, this puts a need for the employer to contribute 59%. But the employers are only contributing 19%. This is why, after ten years of 5% earnings with employers contributing 1/3 of what they should have been contributing, the pension plans are so underfunded.
Steve Cohn December 02, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Rapid response to emergencies, especially medical emergencies which make up 80% of all time-critical emergencies, is always needed. Maybe 90 firefighters (30 stations with three firefighters each) are not required to provide the appropriate first-responder service in most cases but there may be another option to consider if 12 positions (four stations with three in each station) need to be eliminated. That is reducing staffing at 12 stations from three to two; not eliminating four stations and putting four neighborhoods at risk for all emergencies. More thoughts on this option were brought forward on a separate Patch posting http://lamorinda.patch.com/articles/fire-chief-releases-timeline-on-orinda-fire
Steve Cohn December 02, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Note to Lafayette residents. This may not matter to many but some may wonder what you are getting for your money. About $8,000,000 per year of your property taxes (14%) is allocated to ConFire. With 9 firefighters currently stationed in Lafayette that is $900,000 per firefighter (for three shifts). In comparison, Orinda taxpayers pay $1,000,000 per firefighter stationed in Orinda and Moraga taxpayers pay $800,000 (which is a bone of contention for some). If the Los Arabis station is closed (which it is now so while there are 6 firefighters in the downtown station it is effectively closed from a response-time perspective) you will be down to 6 firefighters costing you $1.33 million per firefighter. You may want to consider an "Option B" if that occurs as Orinda did when it split from service by ConFire and joined with Moraga to form MOFD 15 years ago.
c5 December 03, 2012 at 08:08 PM
steve, interesting stats...i would hope that the city of lafayette would consider an option to get their cost per firefighter down to 'only' $800k per person...that sort of action will help force the hand of cccf to get serious in getting costs in line with what residents can afford.
Sailndayz December 03, 2012 at 08:27 PM
What is with all the red herring discussion about responding to medical emergencies? I want to know why with all the budget difficulties are American Ambulance AND ConFire are both rolling to medical calls? What a horrific duplication of resources. Why are we employing Paramedics at ConFire, when AMR has Parameds? Think of the $$ we could save just by eliminating the Paramed requirement from our Firefighter positions....OK now to hear the wailing and noshing of teeth from the FF Union.
Steve Cohn December 03, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Wouldn't we all. The only reason Moraga is there is because Orinda taxpayers subsidize their operation. Total property taxes for the District are about $17.6 million for 19 firefighters or $925,000 per firefighter. MOFD, and Ornda Council members Glazer and Smith, say the subsidy is justified because Moraga-based firefighters provide significant service into Orinda but MOFD operation statistics don't back up the claim. So much of the cost is due to benefits and funding already vested benefits (including pension bonds), getting the cost per firefighter down 15% from $925,000 to $800,000 will be very tough.
Steve Cohn December 03, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Since medical emergencies comprise 90% of all time-critical (Code 3) emergencies and since firefighters are usually the first to respond to all emergencies (AMR ambulances are more for transport), it is pretty important that each crew have a paramedic on board. Considering the total cost of an emergency responder, the incremental cost of a paramedic vs. an EMT (which all firefighters are) is not that great. The red herring is that they are called FIRE fighters when only 4% of the total incidents (excluding false alarms) that they respond to are fires (see Table III-5 in the Orinda Task Force report www.OrindaTaskForce.org for incident type distribution).
Quick Facts December 03, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Paramedics on the Fire Engine are 100% paid for by Measure H Money, a tax that was passed in the 1990's to increase County Paramedic Response. Con Fire Paramedics arrive first on scene 90% of the time (or better in Lafayette). AMR is contracted to respond in less than 12 minutes. The average Con Fire response is less than 5 minutes. When your not breathing, or having a Heart Attack seconds count. The bottom line is does the public want the service, or not.
Chris Nicholson December 04, 2012 at 01:14 AM
@Quick Facts: Shouldn't the question be: "what is the most cost effective way to get <5min response times?" That firefighters/paramedics do an important and risky job does not mean that their compensation and staffing levels should be beyond scrutiny....
Joshua Halloway December 04, 2012 at 04:17 AM
I hope Lafayette would never be foolish enough to repeat Orinda's foolish ways. If it does split off, let's hope it looks at the MOFD fiasco and makes a better operational decision.
Steve Cohn December 04, 2012 at 04:27 AM
@Joshua - I would be interested to know what part(s) of "Orinda's foolish ways" you are referring to with regards to the provision of emergency services to the residents?
Eastofthehills December 04, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Those safety members draw the same pensions and benefits as "working" fire fighters unless you are proposing a reclassification of safety jobs cal pers is correct
Joshua Halloway December 04, 2012 at 05:49 AM
You left Con Fire only to create a separate organization that's headed for bankruptcy. I call that foolish. I would hope if Lafayette left Con Fire it wouldn't be stupid enough to form another entity that's also going to go bankrupt. MOFD is hardly a business model to emulate.
Steve Cohn December 04, 2012 at 03:50 PM
OK. I am with you there. When Orinda (and Moraga) formed MOFD, service, not long term liabilities, were the issue (the newly formed organization created that issue all by itself). What Orinda did wrong was dump the "problem" into the lap of a new, untested agency and then walk away. Most of the Orinda Council still says "it is not our problem" (but double-talk that their residents' safety is of prime concern). So what can Lafayette do if ConFire "abandons" them and uses their taxpayers' revenue to subsidize the rest of the system? "Going it alone" (forming their own fire department) is probably not an option. The city would have to assume their portion of the retirement benefit liabilities that ConFire / The County have accrued. Since the community (the press) laud the Lamorinda cities for having dodged the pension liability issue (by sloughing it off on others; not that their taxpayers have dodged it), no city council is going to bring that liability onto their books.
Steve Cohn December 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM
I see two main options for Lafayette: 1) Contract services from some provider as opposed to just hand the taxes over and hope for the best. A contract would allow the city to define the services although there is not a lot of choice in providers so the "price" might not be controlled by the city, only the amount of service. So if the city could not afford three three-person stations, it could ask for one three-person station plus two two-person stations (which the union would probably fight) or the city could raise its own fire flow tax to support three "full service" stations. Since all of the providers have built up huge pension and retiree medical liabilities, the cost of which they need to "pass on", their rates would include those costs and Lafayette could not dictate prudent actions in the future other than leaving one provider in favor of another. It choices of providers would be ConFire itself, MOFD, maybe CalFire, and an outside chance at Alameda County Fire. Actually, I am not sure Lafayette could walk away from ConFire and contract out without assuming its share of the liabilities unless the entity they were contracting from agreed to accept these liabilities. This would probably require a rather long term commitment on Lafayette's part to the contractor.
Steve Cohn December 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM
2) Join MOFD (which would shift the pension liabilities from one agency not consolidated with Lafayette, The County, to another, MOFD) but force MOFD into a reorganization which gave Lafayette some control over MOFD's future actions. First it would have seats on the board. These would be controlled by Lafayette's voters, not the Council, just as MOFD's current seats are controlled by (and not understood by) Orinda and Moraga voters. Since Lafayette has about 50% more residents than Orinda or Moraga, a board could be comprised of two each from Orinda and Moraga and three from Lafayette; no one city having a majority. Lafayette residents should also demand that the city itself (since residents seem to pay more attention to what their council does) continues to be involved in the functioning of "its" fire department. Orinda's Council pledged (or insinuated) this when MOFD was formed 15 years ago but then turned its back and now does not even remember that it, and not a rogue group of citizens, formed MOFD. One way to do this is force MOFD to create a standing community advisory committee. This committee might have six members, two from each city, with one of those two members being a city/town council member. This committee would act as an "audit" committee, overseeing, but obviously not able to dictate, the MOFD's actions. This would bring tension to the operation of MOFD but tension is good. It is sometimes called "checks and balances".
Joshua Halloway December 04, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Joining MOFD would be the worst option imaginable as MOFD would find a way to make Lafayette pay for MOFD's poor fiscal management. No thanks. It's too bad MOFD is such mess but it shouldn't look to pass that irresponsibility onto other innocent parties by dragging them into MOFD's mess.

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