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EMS Grants News and Articles
Date last updated: Thursday, August 30, 9:43 PST
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Calif. fire dept. to use grant to reopen 3 stations, hire 27 firefighters
By Rowena Coetsee
The Contra Costa Times
OAKLEY, Calif. — Directors of the East Contra Costa Fire District formally accepted a $7.8 million federal grant Wednesday, clearing the way for the agency to reopen stations and staff them with additional firefighters.
The district received word late last week that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved its application.
The funds will enable the district not only to restore the 15 firefighting jobs it eliminated last month but add 12 more, doubling the number of those first-responders. East Contra Costa Fire also now can reopen stations in Bethel Island, Knightsen and Brentwood — half of its six remaining stations — after the failure of a proposed parcel tax in June forced their closure.
Two other stations were shuttered in summer 2010.
"Approval (of the grant) will save lives," Brentwood resident Gene Clare told the board before its vote.
He noted that firefighters were the first to arrive when he fell from the roof of his two-story home in December 2008 while hanging Christmas lights, sustaining eight broken ribs, a fractured collarbone and collapsed lung.
"I'm alive today thanks to the efforts of firefighters," he said.
Ramping back up will be anything but quick, however.
Reopening the first of the stations — probably either the one in Knightsen or Brentwood — will take roughly 60 to 90 days, said Fire Chief Hugh Henderson, adding that the 27 firefighters probably will be phased in nine at a time.
As welcome as the money is, those who have been following the district's struggles are painfully aware that it is a stop-gap measure; unless directors can find an ongoing source of additional revenue the district will be back in the same boat when the grant expires in 24 months.
"None of us has a delusion that this is a long-term solution," said Director Steve Barr, adding that the board cannot afford to wait for property values to appreciate.
Some also wonder whether East Contra Costa Fire's budget will enable it to fulfill the terms of the award. The district only can use the funds for personnel and must maintain all 54 positions during the grant period even if the cost of retirement and medical benefits goes up.
Then, too, there are costs associated with reopening and operating the stations as well as recruiting firefighters; although Henderson believes the district likely can absorb them, they aren't included in this year's budget.
That preliminary spending plan will be up for review at the fire district's Sept. 10 meeting.
Copyright 2012 Contra Costa Newspapers
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