MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa supervisors put off for another week a highly unpopular decision to shutter four fire stations, a move they say they will be forced to take after voters Nov. 6 rejected the temporary parcel tax that would have rescued the services.
With no more reserves, Chief Daryl Louder proposes closing one station each in Lafayette, Martinez, Walnut Creek and Clayton and shaving $3 million from his $100 million budget. He said he chose these four stations based on call volume and a half-dozen other factors. The fire district has 28 facilities.
County supervisors are likely to go along with the chief's suggestions but asked for more hard data to back up their final decision.
"We told the voters that if this measure doesn't pass, we cannot keep all the stations open," said board Chairwoman Mary Nejedly Piepho, of Discovery Bay, who lost her community's fire station to budget woes last year. "The voters sent us back a message, 'Live within your means.' That means we have to close stations."
Only Supervisor Candace Andersen, of Danville, pushed back, and asked the chief to explain next week why the district cannot reduce its per-engine staffing minimum from three firefighters to two, and perhaps keep one or more of the stations open.
"From a lay person's perspective, it sounds like it makes a lot of sense," Andersen said. "I would like to know why this is either impossible or viable."
Firefighters vehemently oppose the reduction, saying it jeopardizes their safety and effectiveness. The national industry standard is four firefighters per engine.
There was no shortage of testimony during a packed 3½-hour hearing Tuesday. In the audience were more than 50 firefighters, along with numerous worried residents and elected officials from cities targeted for station closures.
"I'm not here to demand that any station stay open, but to express concern about the health, safety and property of the residents of Martinez," Mayor Rob Schroder said. "I am glad to hear the decision won't be made today but that there will be some thought put into it."
Clayton Mayor Howard Geller was more direct: "Clayton residents are very unhappy with this plan. You would be leaving Clayton with no fire station within its boundaries, the only city in the county without a fire station. It will be devastating."
Lafayette Councilmen Don Tatzin and Brandt Andersson echoed their colleagues' concerns about the long-term health of the district and urged the board to immediately embark on a thorough analysis of how to create a sustainable fire service model.
The city leaders and residents chiefly expressed angst over the most serious impact of the service cutbacks: Slower response times. Fires will have more time to spread, and people suffering a heart attack will have to wait longer for lifesaving help.
The biggest hit would come in Lafayette, where the district estimates units that used to arrive on scene within 6 minutes 58 percent of the time will show up at that rate only 8 percent of the time. Walnut Creek's 99 percent response rate will slide to 62 percent; in Clayton, 83 to 42 percent; and Martinez, 71 to 49 percent. Pittsburg's station No. 87, which is on the chopping block next year, would see its rate slide from 66 to 44 percent.
A Clayton woman tearfully described how firefighters from Clayton Station No. 11, earmarked for closure, saved her life during a medical emergency and again responded when her house caught on fire.
Measure Q, the fire parcel tax, fell substantially short of the required two-thirds voter approval on Nov. 6.
The most visible Measure Q critic and author of the opposition arguments on the ballot defended her organization's role in its defeat and urged the county to fix rather than patch the problem.
"The taxpayers association's objective was always to ensure the long-term financial viability of the district, and that's why I am here," Contra Costa Taxpayers Association Executive Director Kris Hunt told the supervisors.
The following Contra Costa Fire District stations are earmarked for closure in mid-January:
-- No. 4, 700 Hawthorne Drive, Walnut Creek
-- No. 11, 6500 Center Ave., Clayton
-- No. 12, 1240 Shell Ave., Martinez
-- No. 16, 4007 Los Arabis Ave., Lafayette
Source: Contra Costa Fire District