By Karl Fischer
Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at 2:28 pm in Contra Costa County.
Pinole leaders got the bad news about their fire department’s dire fiscal straits on Tuesday night, in excruciating detail.
Nobody pointed fingers during the public vetting of a consultant’s report that concluded the city can no longer support two fully staffed firehouses. In Pinole, a haven for hard times, folks seemed well past the finger-pointing stage on Tuesday night. There’s too much work ahead to waste the time.
Hard decisions face voters in coming months, not just elected officials or city staff. A remarkably synergistic approach to sharing resources among cash-strapped local departments helped for years to maintain a community standard for fire service.
But now, all the partners are starving. Stewart Gary, the consultant who led the study of Pinole’s options, said matter-of-factly that neighboring Rodeo-Hercules Fire District will run out of money within two years if nothing changes. The much larger Contra Costa Fire District faces a staggering deficit in the near future, and is now considering closing firehouses.
These were and are the principle partners in Battalion 7, an array of firefighting resources in western Contra Costa County shared because no one agency has the resources on its own to maintain the standard of service — such as response time, incident staffing, and ancillary services such as community fire prevention programs — considered acceptable by its residents.
The next step, articulated by Pinole’s consultants and accepted by its leaders, involves a detailed, community-oriented reassessment of everything residents know about their fire service. Pinole will approach Rodeo-Hercules and Contra Costa fire districts to participate also, because those three departments are at this point wholly interdependent.
In months to come, there will be meetings during which people will be asked what they want from their fire departments. They will be told how much what they want actually costs. And then they will be asked again.
There will be no sacred cows in this conversation. There will be much discussion about changing standards now considered “normal” in the community, such as the inevitable arrival of a fire engine anywhere in town, within five minutes of a 911 call. Or the need for at least 15 firefighters to safely combat a one-alarm fire. Or paying lots more taxes for pretty much the same standard of service.
That’s going to be the sort of conversation it will be. Good luck, Pinole.