The Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District this week was awarded a federal grant of almost $2.5 million to hire firefighters.
The grant, which is spread over two years, will enable the district to hire up to nine firefighters and reopen the Rodeo fire station, which has been shuttered since May 2012, said Rodeo-Hercules fire Chief Charles Hanley. It is one of two stations in the district; the other is in Hercules.
Rodeo-Hercules is part of a three-agency consortium dubbed Battalion 7, with the Pinole Fire Department and the Contra Costa County Fire District's San Pablo and El Sobrante stations.
The district currently employs 12 firefighters, not counting the chief. While some of the current firefighters are at or near retirement age, none have indicated they will be retiring, Hanley said. The district hopes to reopen the Rodeo station in the fall.
The grant is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's SAFER program; the initials stand for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.
The federal agency has increasingly stepped in over the last few years to help cash-strapped fire departments in the East Bay and elsewhere maintain staffing levels. Some advocates of fire service reform say the federal grants allow fire departments to continue doing business as usual and delay making necessary reforms.
"These grants just enable the fire districts to maintain the super-high employee compensation," said Ken Hambrick, chairman of the Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers, based in Walnut Creek.
The county board of supervisors will receive a consultant's study on the county fire district, including some alternatives for delivery of services, on Feb. 25.
Also this week, the Alameda County Fire Department was awarded a SAFER grant of almost $4.2 million.
Recent SAFER grants in the East Bay include $1.24 million to the Pinole Fire Department and $1.15 million to the Moraga-Orinda fire district, both in 2013. The East Contra Costa Fire District received a $7.8 million SAFER grant in 2012.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner