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

Julian Glover Image
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Union City fire station closes for good, firefighters warn of longer response times
Wednesday morning marked the closure for the Alameda County Fire Station 30 in Union City as a result of "underutilization," according to City leaders.

UNION CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- Fire Station 30 in Union City is now out of service as of 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, leaving the city of 75,000 with only three active fire stations to respond to fire and medical emergencies.

Before the sun was up this morning, Sean Burrows, President of Alameda County Firefighters Association, Local 55 wasted no time raising safety concerns about the City's decision to close fire station 30.

He parked the union's van in front of the firehouse and unfolded a banner with a bold message: "Your neighborhood fire station is closed. You are now at risk."

"The citizens here in Union City are at significant risk," said Burrows. "When we have a structure fire, a vehicle accident, a medical emergency, a woman who is in labor in imminent birth. Our resources are going to be so thinned we won't have a response time that is adequate"

City leaders tell ABC7 News it was a budget decision to close fire station 30, with the City currently facing a budget deficit.

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

Leaders also pointed to an independent study they claim shows the station was handling, on average, just 1.7 calls per day at a cost of $3.2 million a year to tax payers.

Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci released a statement to ABC7 News following the station's closure.

"We are indebted to the firefighters for keeping our residents safe during medical and fire emergencies; however, the City Council's job is to be responsible for fiscal agents of City resources. We have been examining all city services in the last year to understand where we can be more efficient. Changes are being made citywide, not just with the Fire Department. The reality is that Fire Station 30 was underutilized at a high cost to residents. We are confident that we made a decision that was in the community's best interest. Our attention now is shifting. Union City is excited to be participating in an important discussion with emergency medical service professionals from around Alameda County regarding how we can set up a service model that actually meets the growing medical needs of our community at a more affordable cost."

At 8 a.m. Wednesday the station officially closed its doors, but not before responding to one last call, CPR in progress.

In medical emergencies like this seconds matter.

Burrows said this is case in point of why the firehouse should stay open.

"Response times are going to go up," said Burrows. "It's going to take longer for our resources to get on scene."

The union president warned response times could increase by as much as six to eight minutes.

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.

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.

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

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."

The city said in particular, the cost of its contract with the Alameda County Fire Department has gone up nearly 4% 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.

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.