CLAYTON -- Following the board of supervisors' approval to bring back a full engine component to Fire Station 11, a late summer reopening is possible.

Supervisors, acting as the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District board of directors, made the decision after learning that they would receive a $9.571 million two-year federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant for personnel expenses.

Clayton and other fire district stations were closed for lack of funding after a tax proposal failed to pass, but Clayton was intermittently reopened for Emergency Medical Services anyway.

An analysis of and plan for use of grant funds -- from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and funded through the Department of Homeland Security -- was undertaken by county fire Chief Jeff Carman. There is not sufficient funding to reopen all of the stations at previous staffing levels of nine firefighters per each 24-hour period.

"There is enough money to reopen one station," said Supervisor Karen Mitchoff, noting the board will administer the funds.

Clayton was chosen because of its proximity to wild lands and because its distant location makes it hard to provide backup, said Clayton City Manager Gary Napper at the April 1 City Council meeting.

A closed station in Walnut Creek and one in Concord are expected to reopen with two-person squads.

The SAFER funds will not be available for a month or so, according to Robert Marshall, public information officer for the fire district.

"We need to get some folks through the academy," he said, noting that training for approximately 30 new firefighters begins in May, which affects the reopening of Station 11 in Clayton.

Marshall confirmed that Clayton's redeployed fire truck is definitely coming back, but he does not know where individual firefighters will be assigned.

The fire district is looking at other ways to cut costs and increase revenue. Fire Battalion Chief Richard Sonsteng said the board of supervisors has approved an assessment fee for EMS calls, which have been covered by medical insurance in other areas.

Mitchoff said other ideas being considered include consolidating fire and police dispatch services with cross-training and in one location, although interfacing with 911 calls to the California Highway Patrol and routed elsewhere could be an issue.

"We do need to look at how we dispatch, whether it is consolidated or not,"she said.

Ambulances now contracted with a private company sometimes don't get to a location within 11 minutes, said Mitchoff, adding that metrics show that if arrival is not within four minutes, it does not improve the outcome as it related to heart attacks.

Fire district response times are faster, and the possibility of the district assuming control of ambulance operations could save money and maintain service, according to Sonsteng.

A plan for the fire district to use personnel with EMS training, rather than firefighters on medical calls, would reduce costs by use of a lower pay scale and not using a firetruck for those purposes.

"I think everybody should be trained in how to apply CPR and how to use the defibrillators. Everybody needs to be responsible. We will give more direction to staff by the end of the month on details," Mitchoff said.

"If we go back to ask for a parcel tax, we have to show that we have come up more efficiencies," she said. "I learned from the last one, you are not buying a service, you are buying capacity."

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

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