PINOLE -- The City Council will take another look at a $1.24 million federal firefighting grant, after accepting it in January only to reject it in June after months of discussion over its possible financial ramifications.
The grant, to be spread over two years, would fund four new firefighter positions; until recently, it was assumed that meant reopening the Pinole Valley station, shuttered since July 2011. But one staffing configuration option, dubbed Option B, that will come before the council Tuesday would keep Station 74 closed while increasing staffing at downtown Station 73 to six per shift, with a novel twist: a fire engine staffed by four firefighters, plus a two-person emergency medical squad.
The Pinole Fire Department currently operates Station 73 with four firefighters per shift; if one is absent due to illness or vacation, that staffing can go down to three -- the minimum staffing per station under the city's labor agreement with the firefighters union, Local 1230. Additional absences require a firefighter to work overtime.
Under Option A, the city would reopen Station 74 and staff the two stations each with three firefighters per shift. But that option would maximize the city's exposure to overtime, according to a staff report by interim Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez. Overtime costs in fiscal 2012-13, with only Station 73 in operation, were just shy of $300,000, Rodriguez said; he projects combined annual overtime costs of $595,048 for both stations under Option A.
But under Option B, if one firefighter is absent, Station 73 could operate with five firefighters -- three on the engine and two on the emergency medical squad. If two are absent, the department would "brown out" the emergency medical squad and assign the remaining four firefighters to the engine. And if three of six firefighters are absent, the three present could staff the engine, according to Rodriguez's report.
Overtime costs would be $150,000 or less a year under Option B, he projected. Additionally, the city would save the cost of reopening Station 74, estimated at $100,000 over two years.
Option B would be subject to the "meet-and-confer" requirement under the labor agreement, while Option A would not, according to Rodriguez.
Pinole is part of a three-agency Battalion 7 along with the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District and the Contra Costa County Fire District's El Sobrante and San Pablo stations; it is down to four stations, with the shuttering of the Pinole Valley and Rodeo stations in recent years.
Local 1230 President Vince Wells praises the council for reconsidering the grant, but he is critical of¿ Option B.
"The purpose of the grant was to provide funding for the staffing required to reopen Fire Station 74," he said in an email Monday, adding that it would "replace a critical resource and help bring Battalion 7's firefighter staffing closer to its original staffing level."
"Option B falls short of this and should not even be being considered."