Last year, Contra Costa County spent $138,595,870 on fire services, which is 5.882% of the $2,356,164,293 total county budget.
CCCFPD's district-specific budget (salaries, benefits and all) is equivalent to 4.76% of the County's total appropriations.
Individual cost to taxpayers: The cost, on average, per resident of the District, is $196 per year or $16.35 per month.
Please compare that with some of your monthly bills:
Concord residents' water costs are $52.96/month.
Pittsburg residents' water costs are $71.65/month.
Comcast phone/internet/cable bundle starts at $99/month.
Average Californian's electric bill is $64.83/month.
Contra Costa Times (S.J. Mercury) annual subscription is $178.44, or $14.87/month.
Funding fire services is like paying insurance premiums. In Contra Costa, the "premium" is payed through taxes. We thought it worth while to compare our premiums to those paid by our firefighters for other insurance "products."
One captain's auto, home, and medical insurances cost him $3000/yr.
Another captain's cost is $2500/yr, adding spousal coverage adds $1600/yr, so $4100/yr.
One firefighter's auto, renter's and medical insurances come to $1250+$146+$943 = $2339/yr.
CCCFPD's cost to taxpayers, averaged over the population we serve is $196 per year per person.
Please note that these numbers do not include deductibles or copays. CCCFPD does not charge deductibles or copays. Also know that, contrary to insurance industry trends, our services have been increasing over the years (See "How has fire service changed over the years?").
By population (Cost per resident per year for fire services):CCCFPD ($117M/600Kppl): $196.25
By area (Cost per square mile per year):CCCFPD ($117M/304sqmi): $384,868
Sources: Department web sites and US Census data.
Years ago, your fire department responded to fires. Period. Through building codes, inspections and enforcement, fire incidents are down. That is good news, but it does not mean that when fires occur (and they do) we no longer want firefighters to save lives and put fires out.
Countywide, building construction has spread. Though we have 2 more fire stations than we did 30 years ago, that was accomplished by stealing companies from other stations which used to house two companies. Countywide, our staffing has actually gone down even as the population has increased by 57%.12
Our services have increased dramatically over the years, even as staffing has been cut:
Basic Life Support: All firefighters are, at a bare minimum, emergency medical technicians, trained to deliver initial lifesaving care, including the use of basic airway adjuncts, oxygen therapy, positive pressure ventilation, CPR, defibrilation, bleeding control, spinal immobilization to minimize risk of spinal injury after traumatic accidents and assaults.
Advanced Life Support: Many firefighters are also paramedics, trained to deliver advance life saving care, including the administration of cardiac, respiratory and pain medications, defibrillation, transcutaneous cardiac pacing, chemical and electrical cardioversion of uncontrolled tachicardia, intravenous ("IV") fluid resuscitation, and intubation.
Technical Rescue: The "technical" in technical rescue means a safe and professional approach to trapped victims, reducing the risk to both rescuers and the victim. Different hazards require different approaches and safety measures. Ropes, flotation devices, carabiners, respiratory equipment, hydraulic tools, etc. all have tolerances and limitations. Water rescue, high and low angle rope rescue, trench rescue, confined space rescue, rescue from collapse and vehicle extrication all require knowledge of hazards and potential hazards, as well as k nowledge and training to defeat those hazards in order to successfully mitigate these emergencies. Your fire agencies and firefighters have worked hard to be prepared for these rescues.
Public education: On a daily basis firefighters are there to educate the public on fire prevention and accident avoidance. Station tours and fire engine demonstrations are our opportunity to teach children about fire safety and to reinforce lessons that kids learn from their teachers. Prevention services: are key to reducing deaths, injury and property loss. Our fire prevention bureau, in conjunction with engine companies, inspects industry, commercial property and large occupancies (such as hotels and apartment buildings) annually to be sure safety measures and escape routs are as they should be.
Our services come with no copays or deductibles. We cover anyone in our response area, including your friend visiting from out of town.
One factor that goes into computing insurance premiums is structural firefighting capability. The Insurance Services Office, ISO, rates fire departments on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being best. Water supply (hydrants), proximity of fire stations, quality of apparatus and staffing of fire stations all factor into the rating.In the area covered by CCCFPD
Three shifts, A, B and C shifts, provide "around the clock" coverage in a repeating AABBCC pattern, resulting in a six-day cycle of 48hrs on and 96hrs off, which averages to a 56hr work week or an approximate 240hr work month.
CCCFPD Engines and quints each carry a minimum of three firefighters, at least one of whom is a paramedic. All suppression personnel are, at a bare minimum, emergency medical technicians:
1 Firefighter (nozzle person/work horse) +
1 Fire Engineer (driver/pump operator/work horse) +
1 Fire Captain (supervisor/Boss/Safety/work horse) =
1 crew = 1 company
CCCFPD covers its area (304sqmi) with 30 Companies (in 28 stations) and one Training Captain = 91 total line personnel on duty per day
273 supp ression employees would be "zero staffing." Our line firefighter staffing falls short of zero staffing by approximately 40 firefighters, due to attrition (as of October, 2010).
Sick Leave, Vacation, Work related injuries, and unfilled positions due to attrition create holes in staffing, resulting in overtime shifts to meet 91 firefighters per day.
Of the 30 companies, 24 companies are engine companies, which means that they are equipped with 500 gallons of water, 700+ feet of supply hose, 1200+ feet of attack hose, a 1500 gallon-per-minute pump for increasing pressure delivered by hydrants, minimal ladders, medical equipment, saws and hand tools.
The remaining six companies staff trucks (quints): Trucks are equipped with more saws, longer ladders, an aerial ladder (the big, long ladder on the top that is mechanically controlled), hydraulic tools for automotive extrication ("jaws of life") and many other tools that cannot be carried in the smaller fire engines. Trucks do not have a water tank or pump. At structure fires, "truck work" typically includes rooftop ventilation (often a critical task for saving civilian lives) and search and rescue operations, particularly in buildings greater than one story tall. CCCFPD currently has "quints" serving as trucks; quints are arguably more versatile than traditional trucks because they carry some water (~200 gal) and have high volume pumps.
Rooftop ventilation (creating a makeshift chimney to improve interior conditions) must be done quickly:
Note that Contra Costa fire agencies are currently trying to accomplish the tasks described above with only three people on each engine and quint.
Our response for a residential structure fire (1st alarm) is four engines, a truck or quint and a battalion chief. This compliment results in 15 active firefighters for suppression activities and a battalion chief to help run the incident. For fires in commercial buildings (including apartment complexes), a second truck or quint is sent instead of one of the engines due to the anticipated need for more heavy equipment to ventilate and gain access to the fire building.
But our response time is hindered by our thin resources and our task completion time is hampered by our low staffing on each engine and quint.
Every day, 90 firefighters on 30 rigs protect 304 sq miles. Our average response time is longer than industry standards set forth in NFPA 1710.11
Countywide, building construction has spread. Though we have two more fire stations than 30 years ago, that was accomplished by stealing companies from other stations. Countywide, our staffing has actually gone down, as population has increased by 57%.12
NFPA ha s recommended a minimum of four firefighters on fire apparatus for years. This is an industry standard and recommendation, though it is not a law. 13
California's OES strike teams are required to have four firefighters on each apparatus. This is a requirement.
Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose all staff with a minimum of four, and, in some cases five.
Scientific study of staffing and efficiency 14:
NIST studied the effects of staffing levels on time efficiency for 22 fire-ground tasks and concluded that more is better. Overall, four person crews are nearly 25% faster than three person crews.
Critical, potentially life saving tasks require four firefighters for maximum efficiency. Though there are good arguments and data to support a minimum of five, this study showed little difference between four and five person crews.
Two and three person crews were unable to meet "industry standard achieved" goal under the testing parameter's.
"The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District exists to provide you, your family and our community with professional services, dedicated to the preservation of life, property and the environment." -CCCFPD Mission Statement
Structure fires are complex incidents that often threaten lives and property.
Our specific priorities at structure fires are to rescue lives that are in danger, prevent the spread of fire to rooms or buildings that are not currently involved in fire, extinguish the fire, and to overhaul the building to be sure that the fire is all the way out and that it did not extend through a wall or attic into another part of the building. Salvaging property is a priority that is addressed as soon as is feasible. An often critical task is to create ventilation openings such that super heated toxic gases leave the interior of the structure, giving trapped victims the best opportunity for survival and giving firefighters operating inside the fire building better conditions for rescuing trapped victims.
Early in a fire incident, several specific tasks need to be accomplished immediately to quickly save lives and property:
Search for and rescue of people threatened by the fire is our primary mission at a structure fire; saving saveable lives is our first consideration, and time is usually critical. Obstacles to rescuing victims include the height of the building, the condition of the building, the amount and location of the fire in relation to victims, electrical wiring, housekeeping within the fire building, poor visibility, intense heat, and, possibly most importantly, the amount of rescuers (firefighters) on hand.
"Fire attack," or, "putting enough water on the fire to put it out" is of great importance because rapid extinguishment of the fire could be the fastest way to save lives and property. Obstacles include all of the obstacles listed above plus the added difficulty of maneuvering heavy hose through the building (and up the stairs) ñ these difficulties can be alleviated with more hands to help. Another factor is the amount of fire present usually needs more water than is typically carried on a fire engine; securing a water supply is therefore very important.
Providing a continuous water supply is an early priority for the first-arriving engine company. Fire hydrants are usually not far in well developed areas of the county, but some fires require lots of supply hose to be stretched from the fire engine to the hydrant, or vice versa. This can be a time consuming, labor intensive step (especially in outlying areas) that is critical to the resolution of most structure fires.
Ventilation of the fire building is the systematic replacement of super-heated toxic gases contained in a building with fresh air. In most homes, this is best done by cutting a hole in the roof immediately above the fire to direct the hostile atmosphere out of the building and away from victims and firefighters operating within the structure.
Best practices and federal and state laws require that firefighters that are not actively seeking to rescue a victim cannot enter a structure with a hostile atmosphere alone and that they cannot do so without at least two firefighters fully equipped and ready to initiate a rescue of the entry firefighters. This means that, in Contra Costa County, a fire that is destroying a building but not threatening lives will not get the benefit of interior firefighting operations until a second unit arrives. Put another way:
With current staffing levels in Contra Costa, the first arriving engine can not legally enter your house to extinguish a fire, unless there is a known rescue, until a second engine arrives to back up the first crew.
That second crew can be many minutes away. If there is a rescue, our three person search crews are 6% slower than a four person crews. A two person search crew is 25% slower than a crew of three. In an increasingly hostile and toxic interior environment, time works against trapped and/or incapacitated victims. Seconds truly count in these situations. (Source: NIST study).
Our low staffing is a problem:
Our technology in communications and dispatching, apparatus and opticom traffic signal control have resulted in our ability to get the first engine to the scene pre-flashover in some cases, giving us a maximum chance for loss control. But, our staffing limits our ability to act once onscene.
29 CFR 1910.134, and CCR Title 8 Section 5144: address use of respirators in IDLH ("immediately dangerous to life and health") environments, including structure fires. The law requires us to work in teams of at least two firefighters when in an IDLH environment. It also requires a minimum of two firefighters outside of the IDLH environment that are ready to initiate a rescue of the interior crew(s).
Rapid Intervention Crew (RIC):
A dedicated company of at least three firefighters equipped and ready to rescue downed firefighters. At CCCFPD, this is an assignment made on-scene as soon as is practicable. Establishing a RIC is an industry standard. It is our insurance policy, should things go horribly wrong.
NFPA has recommended a minimum of four firefighters on fire apparatus for years. This is an industry standard and recommendation, though it is not a law. 13
NFPA also sets the industry standard for response times, with the first arriving engine expected to arrive within 5 minutes of a fire call, or all units to arrive within 9 minutes, 90% of the time. Our thin area coverage (28 staffed fire stations for 304 square miles) is insufficient. Our 90% percentile "code 3" response time for in-district 911 calls was 10min47sec, excluding dispatch time. Our median response time was 6min52sec. 11
California's OES strike teams are required to have four firefighters on each apparatus. This is a requirement. When called to staff our OES issued fire engine, we currently add a fourth firefighter to that rig to meet the requirement.
Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose all staff with a minimum of four, and, in some cases, five firefighters per fire apparatus.
Fire is very rapid chemical oxidation of fuel resulting in the release of light and heat. Ignition sources vary; they can be:Electrical (e.g.; lightning or bad wiring),
Speed of fire spread depends on the nature of the materials involved and how much oxidizer (usually oxygen) is present.
To sustain combustion, four components need to be in place: heat, fuel, oxidizer, and a sustained chemical chain reaction. Removing any of these four components will remove active fire. Shown below is the natural progression of unchecked fire, which begins to decay as one of the four elements is removed (slowly). Rapid removal of heat, fuel, oxygen, as well as rapid suppression of the chemical reaction, would suppress a fire more quickly than this curve would indicate.
Please note that this represents a fire in a lab. In actuality, a fire in decay stage is still capable of catching a new area on fire, whether the fire was originally confined to one room in a structure fire, or confined to one hillside in a wildland or forest fire.
Firefighters extinguish most fires as soon as possible because putting the fire out is often the fastest way to preserve life and property.
The following videos are meant to demonstrate the speed of fire spread. Note that the fuels involved are different: the Christmas tree in the first video may as well be a small can of gasoline; the chair in the second video was probably made with fire resistant materials (obviously, not fire proof).
When you watch these videos, ask yourself when the fire department would be called and how long you expect it would take the fire department to arrive once dispatched (The industry standard is to have the first engine company arrive within five minutes of the 911 call).
When firefighters aren't running calls during the day, we are:
Maintaining and inspecting equipment Training (medical continuing education, classroom firefighting continuing education, hands on small and large drills, physical fitness, district video-based training, etc.) Teaching at public education events (station tours, engine demonstrations at schools, etc.) Inspecting businesses (for safety and also to familiarize ourselves with the layouts and hazards of our local businesses, so we can be more effective should we have to respond to an emergency there). Testing and maintaining hydrants (hydrants need to be flushed and pressure tested periodically. Access to hydrants can become a problem when front yards and public areas are allowed to overgrow our hydrants). Cleaning and maintaining the station.
Firefighters often have to drop these activities to respond to emergencies. They then come back to what they were doing before the call, if possible. Below is a sample schedule. Because emergency calls take priority, this schedule is probably a little closer to a captain's wish list than it is to an actual itinerary.
0800 Shift Begins: All personnel arrive at work and check personal safety equipment. Engineer and firefighter check tools and equipment on the fire engine. The paramedic inventories the medical equipment. The captain receives report from the off-going captain and checks the daily calendar for details the company may need to attend to.
0815 Roll call: The captain coming on duty has a conference call with the Battalion Chief and the other captains in the battalion. The day's schedule of training and other events is discussed; important news and information is passed on; any issues with equipment or apparatus are discussed.
0830: The engineer does a more thorough check of the engine's mechanical parts, assuring proper fluid levels, checking brakes, sirens, fire pumps, chain saws, etc. The firefighter cleans the station (kitchen, bathroom, dorm, apparatus bay). The captain develops a plan for the day based on the information he or she received at roll call. Most stations also have a wildland firefighting rig or a rescue or both that also need to be checked over. The firefighter and captain will often go help the engineer with engine checks once their respective chores have been completed.
0930 Training: Three to four hours of training is a typical part of the day.
1330: Hydrant maintenance (hundreds of hydrants need to be tested each year by each company).
1530: Fire and safety inspections at local businesses.
1730: Physical fitness
1930: Study time (This is especially important for probationary employees, who have many tests to pass during the course of their probationary year. New employees and newly promoted employees undergo regular testing during their first year).
Typically, after 6pm, the daily business listed above is completed and firefighters prepare for nighttime calls, study, catch up on the day's news, and possibly take a quick shower, while still being available and ready for the next emergency. At night, we do try to get some sleep. The majority of times this is not an option as many stations get busier at night.
Believe it or not, this is a cost saving measure for the employer: Each firefighter works on a rotating schedule of 48 straight duty hours followed by 96 hours off. This equates to 48 hours (2 days) for every six days. This averages out to a 56 hour work week. It is important to remember that 2 days of a firefighters work schedule (48 hours) is the same amount of time as 6 days work for most people. This schedule provides for 24/7/365 coverage of the communities we serve with only three shifts of personnel.
If we were to move to 40-hour work weeks with eight hour shifts, that would require some combination of three shifts per day (24hrs/8hr shifts=3 shifts) during weekdays, leaving the weekends still in need of coverage. With 48 hours to cover over the weekend, the department would have to hire one full shift of personnel and still be short another eight hours of coverage). So, moving firefighters to 40-hr shifts from 48-hr shifts would require more employees, which would be an additional cost to the taxpayer.
While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in stations closures, we can offer you these reasons the administration is saying these two seemingly contradictory things:
While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in stations closures, we can offer you these insights: Your fire service is already stretched very thin. Any reduction to service due to closing stations or de-staffing units increases the risk to us all.
While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in whether the Board of Supervisors pursues a parcel tax, we can offer the following insights: You are paying your taxes and you deserve the best services available. It is important to understand that property taxes are the primary source of funding revenue for fire districts in this county. In this economy, though, there has been a sharp decline in revenues from property taxes. This is due to several factors: property values have been reassessed at a lower rates; redevelopment agencies are ever expanding their influence and redirecting those property tax dollars for other projects; there are fewer sources of property taxes. All of these factors are doing their part in reducing revenue for all county services, including fire services. Your fire department and your firefighters have found many ways to save money without reducing services. These strategies have been implemented and include:
The Fire District can not fix the fact that less revenue is coming in. At this point, further cuts mean cuts in services. As of January, 2011, Fire Station 1 in Walnut Creek has one less crew on duty each day, halving the ability of that station to serve downtown Walnut Creek and the surrounding areas. The fire district is trying to maintain the same level of service to you with less money. It isn't working. Reserve funds are being spent to maintain your fire services, but the reserves will run out. It is unclear right now whether the Board of Supervisors will pursue a parcel tax. They are waiting to hear back on a field poll to see if the community would support an increased fee to maintain services. The bottom line is that a secure and stable funding source needs to be found.
Sadly, no. Fire services in Concord are provided by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. Measure Q was a City tax for City services:
Measure Q. Transactions and Use Tax -- City of Concord Pass: 17490 / 53.99% Yes votes ...... 14903 / 46.01% No votes
To provide funding that cannot be taken by the State and help protect/maintain Concord's city services, including 911 emergency response times, police officers, gang prevention, crime investigation, neighborhood police patrols, city streets/pothole repair, senior services and nutrition programs, youth/teen programs, and other general city services shall the City of Concord enact a half-cent sales tax for 5 years, with citizens oversight, mandatory financial audits, reports to the community, and all funds staying local?