PINOLE -- The resource-depleted Pinole Fire Department cannot perform all the functions of a healthy fire organization and should take a fresh look at alternative service models in collaboration with neighboring districts, according to a report from City Manager Belinda Espinosa and interim fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez to be delivered to the City Council on Tuesday.

The recommendation comes as the city ponders how to implement a $1.24 million federal firefighting grant, spread over two years, which will cover the cost of hiring four firefighters. The current roster is 13, not counting the fire chief and a battalion chief; another firefighter is supposed to be hired by January to fill a vacancy.

Espinosa and Rodriguez want to revisit a question that ostensibly had been settled earlier this year, when the council opted for Pinole to continue to manage its own stand-alone municipal fire department rather than contract for service with the neighboring Rodeo-Hercules Fire District. A major impediment was the high cost of switching Pinole firefighters to another retirement system; Pinole is part of the California Public Employees Retirement System, and Rodeo-Hercules belongs to the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association.

But the report, available at http://bit.ly/HkJxBZ, says Pinole's fire department, which has a $3.2 million budget for fiscal 2013-2014, can only act reactively, with the help of a "handshake agreement" with the Contra Costa County and Rodeo-Hercules fire districts. The three agencies form the four-station Battalion 7, down from six stations just over two years ago; the Pinole Valley and Rodeo stations have since closed.

A healthy fire organization needs administrative, operations, safety and training, and emergency preparedness and public education divisions, in addition to a bureau of fire prevention and building and code enforcement, a lineup today's Pinole Fire Department cannot muster.

"The Pinole Fire Department as it exists today is fundamentally not capable of performing all of these duties and responsibilities with the staffing complement and the service model that exists today," the report says.

It proposes pursuing a written and signed Battalion 7 agreement, along with three alternatives:

  • soliciting a contract proposal from the Contra Costa Fire District.

  • exploring joining the Rodeo-Hercules district, with Pinole to hold an equal number of seats on the governing board.

  • pursuing a five-year tax to continue as a stand-alone municipal fire department.

    To implement the $1.24 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant, the report all but rules out reopening the Pinole Valley fire station, shuttered since July 2011. Instead, the entire Pinole firefighting force would operate out of Station 73 downtown, with several staffing and vehicular configurations depending on how many firefighters are on hand on a given shift, subject to negotiation with the firefighters union, Local 1230.

    With six firefighters on duty, the department could staff two engines, the report says. With five firefighters on duty, the department could field one fire engine with three firefighters, while the other two firefighters would staff a two-person "rescue" vehicle to respond primarily to medical calls. If only four firefighters are present, all four would staff a single engine.

    A two-person vehicle already exists at one fire station in the county, on an experimental basis, at the county fire district's downtown Walnut Creek station. County firefighters, like Pinole's, are represented by Local 1230.

    Also on Tuesday's agenda is a report on the city's discussions with state officials about a lease with Verizon Wireless for a piece of Pinole Valley Park to build a cell phone tower.

    Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.

    if you go
    What: Pinole City Council
    Where: Pinole City Hall, 2131 Pear St.
    When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday