Contra Costa County Fire Chief Daryl Louder. (Staff archives)
Contra Costa County Fire Chief Daryl Louder. (Staff archives)

Our patience has run out. And, judging by comments last week from some members of the county board of supervisors, theirs has too.

Since he arrived 2½ years ago, Fire Chief Daryl Louder has known that the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, which serves much of Central County as well as Antioch, Pittsburg and San Pablo, faces a financial crisis. His only answer was to raise taxes. Never mind that it wouldn't fix the underlying structural problem, only delay the day of reckoning.

Voters saw through that, and wisely rejected Measure Q, a parcel tax increase on the November ballot. The message was clear: Fix the system first. Figure out how to more cost-effectively deliver services and control soaring pension costs.

The supervisors, who hired Louder and serve as the fire district's directors, deserve blame too. For political expediency, and unwilling to show divisions as they tried to win voter approval for Measure Q, they have not pushed the chief to do his job. That changed Tuesday.

Without more money on the horizon, it was time for action. Louder had long known the day would come. But he came only with a recommendation to close four of the district's 28 fire stations, and he never showed numbers to justify why those four were selected. Moreover, closing four stations won't solve the problem. More cuts will be needed before July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

Louder started by bemoaning he had been up late the night before finishing his slide presentation. Seemed like the student who had known for months when his assignment was due and waited until the last minute to start working on it.

It showed. His slides mainly rehashed how we got here. His staff report was worse. It seemed that the chief had done little substantive work to prepare for the critical day of decision-making. There was no thoughtful discussion of how to more efficiently respond to emergency medical requests, which account for about 80 percent of the calls.

Amazingly, Louder suggested tapping county coffers for a bailout of the separately funded fire district. Hello?! Chief, get a grip on reality. That won't happen.

Some of the supervisors had seen enough. John Gioia quickly quashed the idea of raiding the county. Candace Andersen asked to see numbers that should have been provided ahead of time. Board Chairwoman Mary Piepho started divvying up tasks.

Clearly the chief could not be counted on to lead, so the supervisors asked County Administrator David Twa to provide financial oversight and Emergency Medical Services Director Pat Frost to convene a committee to find alternative service models. Louder reports directly to the supervisors. But it was clear that at least some of them lacked confidence in him and were turning to county staffers instead.

If the supervisors don't trust him, why should we? These challenging times call for thoughtful leadership. Louder is a nice guy. But he has had his chance. We need better.