OAKLEY -- East Contra Costa Fire Protection District has notified laid-off firefighters around the state that it's hiring, and soon it will start recruiting from the public at large.
A $7.8 million federal grant is enabling the agency not only to start filling the 15 positions that it was forced to eliminate in July following the failure of a proposed parcel tax, but hire an additional 12 firefighters as well.
The fire district also closed three of its six remaining stations July 1, but the two-year grant it since has learned it will be receiving will make it possible to reopen them.
Of the 15 firefighters who lost their jobs, eight have indicated they want to return, Fire Chief Hugh Henderson told the board of directors Monday. At least six others already have found work with other agencies.
In an effort to rebuild the ranks of first responders, Henderson said he's sent out about 150 letters to individuals on a statewide list of firefighters who have lost their jobs
The district also has contacted the small group of paid on-call firefighters it sidelined, offering these part-time reservists the chance to apply for full-time status.
Henderson hopes to expand his search to the general public in the next few days, collecting the names of potential applicants who, at the very least, have graduated from a firefighting academy and hold an emergency medical technician certificate. The district would turn to this pool of eligible employees if it can't fill all 27 openings using the first two search methods.
The first station to reopen will be the one in Knightsen, which is closest to Bethel Island and other spots in the northeastern part of the district where response times have been the longest since the station closures, Henderson said.
The facility, which will be staffed by nine firefighters, is expected to be back in operation by mid-November.
Although dispatchers received only 30 calls to the Bethel Island area in August and 23 the following month, the average response times were 13 minutes and 40 seconds and just over 14 minutes, respectively, he said.
Over the same period, there were many more calls from residents near the shuttered station in downtown Brentwood -- the next one that will open sometime in December -- but it took fire trucks an average of 8 minutes and 40 seconds at most to arrive, he said.
Henderson thought it unlikely that Bethel Island's fire station will reopen considering that it could cost as much as $1 million to refurbish. The district's insurance carrier not only condemned the structure after asbestos and mold were found there, but the building doesn't meet current flood control standards.
However, Henderson noted that Shea Homes eventually might build a replacement. One of the conditions of approval that the city of Oakley placed on the company was that it provide residents with a fire house once it has built 600 homes in its Summer Lake development, Henderson said. So far it has built roughly half that number, he said.
On the heels of Henderson's update, Director Bob Kenny asked his colleagues to consider giving themselves a stipend for their work on the board.
"I just feel we would have a better demographic on our board if we made it more attractive by offering some compensation," he said, noting that a single parent, for example, might be more likely to apply for the position.
Other fire districts in the county pay their boards a stipend -- directors of San Ramon Valley Fire District receive $105 per meeting, Kenny added.
But the compensation doesn't have to be much, and directors always could choose to give the money to charity or back to the district, he said.
Recently appointed board member Ronald Johansen disagreed with Kenny's idea, however.
He vied for a spot on the board because he's concerned about East Contra Costa Fire's financial future, he said.
In light of how hard the agency has struggled to make ends meet, "I personally cannot say I would be willing to accept any compensation," Johansen said. "It sends the wrong message to our community."
Brentwood resident and City Council candidate Carissa Pillow rejected Kenny's proposal more forcefully.
"It's absolutely inappropriate to ask for compensation," she said. "This is a volunteer position. If you don't have the heart of a volunteer, I recommend you step down."
Kenny reiterated that keeping the stipend would be optional and pointed out that whereas some board members receive income from jobs, "some of us who are retired and disabled don't."
In the end, the rest of the board agreed that it didn't want Henderson spending any time exploring the issue.
In other business, new board members Kevin Bouillon and Ronald Johansen were sworn in and board President Kevin Romick presented outgoing Director Jim Frazier with a plaque recognizing him for his service.
Director Pat Anderson, who also stepped off the board Monday, was absent.
Bouillon and Johansen will represent Oakley on the nine-member board for the next two years; new appointee Jonathan Michaelson is scheduled to replace Romick on April 1.
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.