CLAYTON -- The Clayton City Council is taking a proactive approach to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District decision to reduce personnel at the town's only fire station. City, county and public reaction to fire district solutions to its revenue shortfall is changing almost daily.

"It is an obligation (to take action). It is a matter of public safety," said Councilman Jim Diaz, at the Feb. 5 meeting.

A possible fire insurance rate increase for Clayton homeowners is also an issue.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, which functions as the board of directors for the fire district, approved a $463,500 study to help the county find less expensive fire and emergency service models at its Feb. 12 meeting.

Clayton Mayor Julie Pierce encouraged the board to go forward with a proposal for a joint public meeting of the fire district, board members, representatives of the cities in the district and adjacent jurisdictions.

"We should sit down and have a real conversation," Pierce said. "Our citizens look to us to communicate their concerns."

The board agreed.

Clayton Fire Station 11 was scheduled for closure after voters turned down a proposed tax increase for fire protection. Eventually, the fire district downsized personnel to six hours a day and warned the public to expect the response time from a 911 call to increase by 30 seconds, to 7 minutes and 30 seconds.

Fire district costs have been rising while property tax revenues dropped for the past four years.

"The district has been living on reserves," Battalion Chief Richard Sonsteng said. "District employees have absorbed a 10 percent pay cut, two battalion chiefs have been taken offline, all capital expenditures have been cut and one of the chiefs is driving a car with 130,000 miles on it."

County fire Commissioner Tom Chapman said, "Other or combined sources of funding, such as flexible taxes used exclusively for fire service or a charge per call ... could be paid for by health or homeowners insurance."

Some doubt that insurance companies will pay for it and Supervisor Karen Mitchoff noted that taxpayers, who are already paying for the service, might not like the idea of paying for it again.

At the Clayton meeting, Pierce had suggested the entire council form a subcommittee to address the fire protection issue, but a lengthy discussion resulted in a subcommittee of two council members, plus Clayton residents. However, formal communications to other governmental bodies would be signed by the council.

"I encourage all Clayton citizens to be involved," Councilman Howard Geller said. "Now is the time to really unite."

The subcommittee of Diaz and Councilman David Shuey were chosen to establish an independent validation of the facts surrounding fire protection services (including brownouts and costs), explore alternative and interim fire protection measures and report back to the council.

Alameda Fire District Division Chief Daren Olson and Richmond Firefighter Steve Chandler are among the Clayton residents who have volunteered to contribute their expertise to the Clayton committee.

After the council meeting Olson said, "Cutbacks can be painful, but we have to look at administrative costs. It is important to keep firefighters on the street."

In the interim, Clayton residents are encouraged to take advantage of local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training. Reportedly, 85 percent of fire district calls are for EMT services, rather than for a fire.

Many wonder why a firetruck and three firefighters arrive after a medical emergency 911 call. Sonsteng said that model of service makes sense because a fire call could come in while firefighters are at the medical call, so it is important to keep the fire truck and firefighters together.

"You need three people anyway. Two to carry and one to drive. If a call comes in and they are separated from the truck, they cannot respond as fast," Sonsteng explained.

The Contra Costa County Fire Communications Center has launched a new Pulse Point smart phone application that can provide the location of the nearest person trained in CPR and willing to assist in emergencies. It can also alert bystanders who are in the vicinity of a cardiac emergency and direct them to the closest publicly accessible defibrillator and more.

The idea of a volunteer fire protection service has been considered and rejected, and the possibility of paying the fire district for two emergency medical technicians on a 24/7 basis turned out to cost $400,000 annually, according to Pierce.

She said that would not make sense. The city's 4,000 resident households would pay $1,000 annually, and still not have fire protection.

Contact Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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