Some Contra Costa firefighters spent Tuesday afternoon fighting a house fire in Antioch. In order to cover the rest of the city, they had to move a crew over from Pittsburg. That's the kind of juggling they say will only get worse if there are more cuts.
Barely three months after closing four fire stations, the Contra Costa Fire Department is on its way to shuttering two more, including perhaps one in Pittsburg. "There will be station closures. There will be less people on the streets and there will be some fatalities," said Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover.
Without new revenue sources, Contra Costa supervisors announced the likely closures and layoff of as many as eight more firefighters. "We have to live within our means. How do we do that in a safe, sustainable way? Well, we can get to sustainable. I share your concern that we're not going to be safe," Supervisor Mary Piepho said.
Firefighters claim any more reductions will put the community in danger. Several years ago, there were 91 firefighters on duty at any one time. With the new cuts, that number would drop to 66. "This budget is like asking Concord High School with 2,000 students to just have four teachers," said Contra Costa County firefighter Vito Impastato.
However, Kris Hunt with the Contra Costa Taxpayers' Association says if the fire department wants to maintain its current level of service, current and former firefighters need to make concessions. "The costs that have risen just from two years ago, for retiree health, for pensions and paying off their pension obligations bonds, which is a debt related to that, have gone up $5.6 million. That's huge. So, that's where the expenses lie," he said.
According to the proposed budget, one station would close July 1, the next on January 1 of next year. Station 87 in Pittsburg has been on the closure list before and would likely be targeted again.
"We're at a critical level right now. We can't afford to close another station or take another firefighter off the street," said Vince Wells with the Contra Costa Firefighters Association.
So far, the stations that might close have not been clearly identified. The department will do what they have in the past -- look at service call data and the like to decide which stations are candidates. A final decision on all this isn't expected until a final budget vote next month.