Closure of East Bay fire station raises safety concerns, Union City stands by data-driven decision

UNION CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- Tuesday brought the final night for Alameda County Fire Station 30 in Union City.

Doors will officially close at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, as a result of "underutilization," according to City leaders.

However, neighbors living near Fire Station 30 on Eastin Court are sounding the alarm on safety.

The expected closure has led to a list of concerns and questions.

"My question would be, 'Why?' In this economy when everything and everybody is doing well," resident Rajeev Verma told ABC7 News. "And the other concern I have is about the response time."

ABC7 News met with the city's mayor.

"The purpose of the closure, first and foremost, is because it was underutilized," Mayor Carol Dutra Vernaci said.

She explained the city is working to "address areas where we can do things perhaps more efficiently and at a better cost."

RELATED: Firefighters warn of spiking response times after closure of East Bay fire station in Union City

Union City relied on experts to help.

"When the national experts showed the station was being underutilized and that under-utilization was costing us about $3.2 million a year. In July, we seriously had a conversation and decided that based on our fiscal situation and our goal of responsible fiscal stability, that it was the right thing to do for our residents," she said.

Dutra Vernaci said data showed that on average, Station 30 was only receiving 1.7 calls in a 24-hour period.

"It's a puzzle to us, to the firefighters, that the city can't make ends meet with as well as the city is doing all around," Mike Agustin with the Alameda County Firefighters Association, Local 55 said. "Especially with the Public Safety Tax that they're already collecting from the citizens who voted to pay the money to maintain the firehouses that they have."

The city confirmed the most recent version of the public safety parcel tax in current form was voted into place in 2016.

A city official shared that since the voters approved that tax measure, the city has been faced with a long term structural deficit to its general fund. Ultimately, the city's "expenses outpace our revenue."

RELATED: City council in Union City votes to close neighborhood fire station

The city said in particular, the cost of its contract with the Alameda County Fire Department has gone up nearly 4 percent each year since 2011, which they equate to be in the hundreds of thousands range.

Additionally, they said the cost of services overall has increased.

"Every city department has seen restructuring or changes of some sort as we work aggressively to address our financial challenges. Examining data and then making data-driven decisions is a best practice all cities rely on," the official told ABC7 News.

Overall, the city said the closure was a data-driven decision.

A decision Agustin and others feel will ultimately put the public in danger.

Agustin said the closure could add an extra six to eight minutes in response time.

"That's a long time for somebody to be waiting when they're in a really bad situation," he added.

Mayor Dutra Vernaci said data also showed 85 percent of calls to Station 30 were for medical response.

She said the city is now considering whether to put ambulances and other emergency services at the station.

"We are not just shutting the doors on that station," she said. "We are having conversations about how to best use that station for emergency response in Union City."

However, Agustin pointed out, "All of our fire engines here have paramedics on the fire engines. So, if there's a medical emergency, you're going to get the same care from the firefighters that are paramedic trained, as you would an ambulance paramedic."

He continued, "With a city of this size, 75,000, it's vital that the fire stations are spread out among the citizens. With only three fire stations, it's impossible for us to serve the citizens as they expect."

Agustin said the nine firefighters who work at Station 30 will still be working for Alameda County Fire, but they'll have to reach out to other stations for placement.
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