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Firefighter Jaymes Laughlin, right, of the East County Fire District's Station 54 in Brentwood, prepares to raise the flag along with Captain Craig Auzenne, left, during the reopening of Station 54 in Brentwood, Calif., on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

BRENTWOOD -- Residents here got their second fire department back Wednesday morning with the reopening of Brentwood's Station 54, although the long-term future of that downtown facility and others in far East County remains uncertain.

At 8 a.m. sharp, three firefighters and a battalion reported for duty at the First Street station, which had been closed for 10 months.

"It's good news for the community -- it increases our service level by 20 percent over yesterday," said East Contra Costa Fire District Chief Hugh Henderson, noting that his agency now has engines at the ready in five stations instead of four.

Budget cuts forced the district to shutter the Brentwood station July 1 along with ones in Knightsen and Bethel Island, leaving three fire departments to serve an estimated 105,000 people over a 249-square-mile area.

The following month, however, East Contra Costa Fire learned that it would be getting a two-year federal grant for $7.8 million. The funds have enabled the fire district to reopen the Knightsen and Brentwood stations, restore the 15 firefighter positions it had eliminated and add 12 more.

With 45 positions now filled, the agency can fully staff five of its engines with three firefighters each.

Bethel Island's station, compromised by asbestos, mold and a failure to meet current flood control standards, remains closed; whether the district ever will use it again is a decision the board hasn't made yet, Henderson said.


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Whatever peace of mind residents have gained with the reopening of Station 54 is tempered by the knowledge that the clock is ticking, however.

When the grant expires in November 2014, the district will be right back to layoffs and station closures unless it finds another way to boost revenue before then.

"This is a short-term fix. We still have a long-term problem," Henderson said.

District directors haven't decided whether they'll pursue another parcel tax; voters defeated a proposed $197 per parcel annual tax in June.

Other options are a benefit assessment -- money that only can be used for fire suppression -- or charging fees for certain services such as medical aid, responding to vehicle accidents and conducting inspections.

Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.