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Frequent Comments and Questions Answered Showing Why You Should Vote Yes On Measure S

#1 - This tax will just pay for exorbitant benefits for firefighters, so they can retire early with big pension payouts.

Our firefighters risk their lives for us every day by running into burning buildings while the rest of us run out. Despite that, East Contra Costa County firefighters do not receive disproportionately large benefits or pensions. When contracts are negotiated, the average salaries of similarly sized jurisdictions are brought to the table for consideration. Despite this process, the East Contra Costa County firefighters still make less than half of the average salary of firefighters in the Bay Area. The revenue collected for fire protection in East Contra Costa County is significantly less than the revenue collected in the rest of the county. This has lead to inadequate staffing levels and pay for the firefighters who protect the East Contra Costa County communities, prior to the economic downturn and since the district was formed in 2002. On top of that, the long-term health costs associated with the profession far outweigh the pay. Firefighters are prone to cancers, lung and heart problems, as well as burns and the possibility of dying on the job.

#2 - The fire district (ECCFPD) should learn to live within their means, just like the rest of us.

The tax base for Contra Costa County has decreased by $700 million dollars while the cost of living and labor rates have increased. Living within the means is a fair statement if the means kept up with inflation over time. The budget has been drained for essential services while cities like Oakley and Brentwood have increased in population 35% in the last 10 years. The same amount of money keeps coming in for fire services while population increased in the district, leaving our resources stretched thin. The fire district has also faced funding reductions in 2009 and 2010 that forced them to make severe cutbacks. As a result, they left positions unfilled, eliminated administrative positions, deferred critical repairs, and closed two fire stations.

#3 - This measure is only a short-term band aid and won't really fix our funding problem. They will run out of money in a few years and ask for more taxes.

Before considering a tax measure, the fire district held multiple public meetings in which all issues were debated long, often with much public input. Then prior to placing the issue on the ballot the fire district held additional community meetings in all areas of the fire district for further public input. They then put forward a ten year fiscal plan to ensure that they had a plan for financial stability. The inclusion of a sunset provision helps to ensure the money is being allocated properly. This gives the residents of the fire district a chance to review, and in the future, not renew the tax if deemed unnecessary.

#4 - Firefighters in East Contra Costa County make too much money.

East Contra Costa County fire personnel salaries are 42% less on average than that of their Bay Area counterparts who are doing the same job.

#5 - We should use volunteer and paid on-call firefighters to save money.

In the years past, several communities in ECCFPD used volunteers or paid-on-call fire fighters for fire protection. This system worked back then when the populations were sparse and the infrastructure was primarily farmland. With the significant amount of population growth, and growth in commercial property, this system would no longer work.

To run a volunteer program, it would require those that were able to do the job to be in the community at all times in order to be available to respond. The lack of permanent staffing at a fire station would lead to increased response times, and sometimes no response. This is due to the fact that depending on the system, the volunteers have to report to the station first and then respond to the call. With the increases in traffic and congestion, this would have a significant impact on travel to the station for a response. Furthermore, there are many OSHA laws that require annual or bi-monthly training to all firefighters that are going to be involved in fire attack or other life threatening emergencies. The maintenance of skills, emergency medical training, and the need for annual physicals are also factors that have made a volunteer/paid on call system, undesirable.

#6 - The fire district wastes money by sending fire trucks to non-fire medical emergencies. We should just send an ambulance to save money.

When someone calls 911 in Contra Costa County and in most other counties in the state, the resources dispatched can include a police officer, a fire engine, an ambulance, or a combination of all three resources. Whether they are all dispatched or not depends on the nature of the call and determination from the 911 operator.

There are several reasons why fire engines are dispatched to non-fire related medical emergencies. One is that fire stations are placed throughout the community in order to ensure a rapid response to most homes and business within its jurisdiction. This was originally done for the purpose of fire suppression. Now it is industry standard for fire fighters to be trained to a level of Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or higher, due to the ability to get life saving resources to a citizen in a timely manner. 4-6 minutes is the length of the time the brain can live without oxygen. Since staffed fire stations were needed for fire protection, it makes sense to also have them available for medical calls, hazards, lift assists, wires down, odor investigations, vehicle accidents, and many other emergencies. The number of fire responses has decreased because of changes to building construction, code changes, and an aggressive fire prevention education program.

The second reason fire engines are dispatched to medical emergencies is for additional manpower. An ambulance is staffed with only two personnel. This means that without additional resources, there would only be two personnel on scene to manage a medical emergency and then only one in the back of the ambulance with the patient when transporting them to the hospital while the other drives. This is most often, not enough. A medical emergency requires enough trained resources in order to make a difference between life and death. Carrying equipment, assessing vital signs, lifting the patient, and managing the surroundings, are all tasks that are necessary for most medical emergencies. If advanced life support (ALS) is determined to be necessary, this requires many more personnel to perform advanced medical procedures, such as intubation, starting intravenous lines, or administering medications. While on scene, if the patient is manageable by just the ambulance staff, the fire crew is available for another emergency. The ambulance is committed to the patient until they are delivered to an emergency room. This makes them out of service until then. Ambulances are provided through a contract with the county by a “for profit” private company. It would be costly for an ambulance company to provide enough personnel to respond to emergencies, to provide the needed manpower, and to have enough ambulances available to transport patients to the hospital. There is no charge for services provided by the fire department. This is all covered by the property taxes received.

Many people have heard and misinterpreted the fact that most of the calls that firefighters go on are medical calls. This is true, however, but what is the definition of a medical call? A medical call is any call where someone is hurt or ill, regardless of the event. This includes a patient at a house fire suffering from burns or smoke inhalations. It includes vehicle accidents with people trapped or not, any type of fall, rope rescues, explosions, stabbings, shooting, assaults, confined space incidents, hazardous material exposures, entrapment, and the list goes on. As you can see, having only two people on an ambulance to respond to these types of calls would be inadequate and would defeat the purpose of having an emergency response system.

#7 - The fire district just opened a brand new $3.15 million firehouse in Oakley.  How could they claim they have no money?

The fire district didn’t pay a penny for the construction. The new firehouse was paid for by the City of Oakley’s Fire Facilities Impact Fee Fund, which developers have been paying into for years as part of development fees. These funds are also one-time capital funds, which cannot be used to fund ongoing expenses.

#8 - We should contract out our fire services to CAL FIRE to save money.

If we contracted out our fire services, our taxes and funds would be used to pay out of district salaries to the state. Contracting out services does not guarantee that we will save any money and it removes our oversight of how the money is spent. This issue has been looked at in the past and has been found to be unfeasible. CAL FIRE would also have to be interested in the contract and it would have to be worth their while as well. The state would not be interested in a contract that would cost them money.

#9 - The fire district has spent its reserves and now it wants you to pay more money so it can expand services we don’t need.

The money raised by the tax will preserve services we currently offer. Without this tax, three (3) additional stations will need to be closed, up to twenty four (24) firefighters will be laid off, response times will increase, and residents will be in danger. The parcel tax allows the East Contra Costa Fire District to stop these cuts and bring services up to the industry standard.