MORAGA -- The Moraga-Orinda Fire District is moving forward with a plan that could result in a fire station operated jointly with the Contra Costa Fire District on the Lafayette-Orinda border.
Trustees this week decided to forge ahead with discussing the partnership in which both districts would share the cost of building and staffing a new facility that would replace ConFire Station 16 in Lafayette, which closed Jan. 15, and MOFD Station 43 in Orinda. The stations are located about 1¿1/2 miles apart and are considered "low capacity" stations.
At a meeting Wednesday, Moraga-Orinda fire Chief Randy Bradley explained the districts would split the cost of buying land and building a new station, possibly on El Nido Ranch Road. They would also divide the estimated $1.9 million annual operating costs of "Station 46," which would be staffed with a three-person paramedic engine company working in three shifts.
Bradley also outlined the impacts the partnership could have on the Moraga-Orinda Fire District's service levels in Orinda, including post-dispatch travel times in some areas and increases in others. He also said the arrangement could potentially save the district about $1 million annually, which at least one director said could be put toward helping pay down the district's unfunded pension and health care liabilities.
ConFire Chief Daryl Louder estimates that same savings for his district. Louder approached MOFD last month about the station consolidation after ConFire closed the Lafayette station along with facilities in Martinez and Walnut Creek. The closures followed the defeat of a $75-per-parcel tax measure in November; service at Clayton's only fire station was reduced.
"I think we would save at least $1 million a year in personnel and operating costs by going into a joint venture," Louder said in an interview. He also said ConFire has the capital funds to put toward a new station, and believes his district could recoup the capital startup costs in three years. Louder is scheduled to bring the idea before the county board of supervisors on Tuesday.
This isn't the first time the districts have discussed consolidating stations. In 1999, a former MOFD chief studied combining the stations into a single facility along El Nido Ranch Road to improve response times and reduce operational and capital costs for both districts.
In 2011, MOFD made another consolidation proposal before deciding to replace the aging Station 43, a project now on hold and whose $3 million capital costs may be applied to the new station. ConFire rejected that offer.
Residents also had plenty to say about the potential consolidation. Some called for the city of Lafayette to detach from the troubled ConFire district.
Former MOFD trustees Brook Mancinelli and Dick Olsen, who resigned last year, said they don't support further talks with ConFire and warned that consolidating with the financially troubled district could lead to problems. Olsen cautioned that scaling back MOFD may jeopardize its future and said the consolidation could energize county commissioners who would like to see a countywide fire district.
Before agreeing to continue the talks, directors expressed their concerns and at least one suggested the new station should be owned and staffed by MOFD. They also asked that Lafayette city leaders participate in the discussions, but none attended Wednesday's meeting.