LAFAYETTE -- When the Contra Costa Consolidated Fire Protection District officially shuts one of the city's three fire stations next month, residents will face increased wait times for emergency service to their homes.
But estimates of just how long they'll have to wait differ depending on who you ask.
George Burtt and other residents who live in the 440 homes in Acalanes Valley formerly served by Station 16 on Los Arabis Drive estimate they may have to wait an additional four to six minutes for firefighters to reach their homes once the closure goes into effect in early January.
In Happy Valley, north of Highway 24, those times could get even longer.
"The chief offers certain numbers," Burtt said. "We think the numbers are longer, but they're hypothetical."
Burtt and others in Lafayette have been sounding alarms for months about increased response times should the station -- closed since June because of a rat infestation and mold contamination -- shut permanently.
On Dec. 11, that closure became reality when the Contra Costa County board of supervisors voted unanimously to shutter the station -- along with ones in Walnut Creek, Martinez and Clayton -- following the defeat of a temporary parcel tax that would have raised about $17 million to preserve service at the district's 28 stations.
Fire Chief Daryl Louder reiterated last week that response times in the area will increase, as will response times overall. But he explained that Station 16 had one of the lowest call volumes in the district, and a relatively light workload; its proximity to other fire stations, including Moraga-Orinda Fire District's Station 43 on Via Las Cruces in Orinda, was another reason why it was targeted for closure. The Orinda station is located a little more than a mile away from Station 16.
"All of our communities look at their fire station as their local fire station. Cities look at them from a city perspective. But the fire district runs from Antioch to San Pablo," Louder said in an interview. "We need to look at it as a systematic approach, which is the best delivery for the entire district."
Lafayette Mayor Mike Anderson said he was disappointed by the decision. In a letter to the supervisors before Tuesday's meeting, Anderson had urged them to reject the station's closure. He argued that if the station were shuttered, in instances where there is no mutual aid, there would be a 50 percent drop in response times within ConFire's 6-minute target window -- which could lead to preventable deaths.
Anderson also wrote that Lafayette residents -- who contributed $7.8 million in property taxes to the district last fiscal year in contrast to $3.4 million received by the city -- would see their net contributions increase for services in other communities. He pitched an idea to staff the city's three fire stations with two paramedic-firefighters each to retain wider coverage for emergency services, which are the most frequent calls.
"I think the city offered to give the county an opportunity to try a different model," Anderson said.
Louder pointed to a number of national studies that say staffing engines with two people is not a safe option, and said the district would have to send more units to incidents because of reduced staffing. He did say that the district would meet with county officials to look into the possibility of providing additional emergency medical service units. Officials are also considering moving an engine to Lafayette in the summer during high fire danger days.
"Trying to reduce the impact for all of our closed stations is a high priority of us. That's why we're working with neighbors and other partners and stakeholders to try and find solutions," the chief said.
As for the question of equity, Louder emphasized that fire stations and other resources are part of a special district and are not city fire departments. "Our resources go across (city) borders as a special district all the time," he said. "It's a district resource or asset and it's shared in order to provide protection in the entire area."
The district plans to meet with residents to discuss the closure in January.