PINOLE -- A now-closed firehouse, built a decade ago in apparent violation of a federal parks grant covenant, got much of the attention at a special workshop Tuesday on the future of the Pinole Fire Department.
Carved out of the western tip of Pinole Valley Park and dedicated in 2002, Station 74 was greeted as a much-needed public safety improvement at the time by residents of the part of the city that lies east and south of Interstate 80. Pinole's other fire station, No. 73, is downtown, north and west of I-80.
But the state Department of Parks and Recreation, which administered a National Park Service grant that helped Pinole buy the land for the park several decades ago, informed Pinole over the summer that conditions of the grant ruled out anything but outdoor recreational use, and that other uses would require the property be replaced with comparable parkland elsewhere in the city -- A process that could take more than five years, officials said.
That has all but ruled out reopening Station 74 under a $1.24 million federal firefighting grant to be spread over two years that was secured at the initiative of members of firefighters union Local 1230 and is expected to be implemented at the start of 2014. The union had hoped the grant, which will pay for hiring four new firefighters for two years, would allow the city to reopen the station that has been shuttered since mid-2011 for budgetary reasons, and once again deploy two fire companies, one out of each firehouse, each staffed by three firefighters.
Currently, the department deploys a single fire engine out of Station 73, usually staffed by four firefighters.
On Tuesday, the City Council gave interim Fire Chief Carlos Rodriguez the OK to implement the grant with a hybrid deployment, depending on how many firefighters are present on a given shift. Six firefighters would staff two engines, but if only five are present on a given shift, the department would deploy one engine plus a two-person emergency medical response vehicle. A similar experimental response model exists at the Contra Costa County Fire District's downtown Walnut Creek station.
Rodriguez also gave a presentation on the future of the Pinole fire department, in which he noted that the current stand-alone municipal department lacks the resources to fulfill all the functions of a modern-day fire organization. He urged the council to look into the possibility of "mergers" with neighboring departments, noting that he meant the term to apply to operations and administration, not to governance.
Pinole is part of a three-agency, four-station Battalion 7 that also includes the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District's Hercules station and the county district's San Pablo and El Sobrante stations. Battalion 7, which used to have six stations until the Pinole Valley and Rodeo stations closed, operates as a de facto single fire department.