The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) is a rural funded fire district that protects approximately 249 square miles and over 114,000 residents. The district provides firefighting personnel and emergency medical services (basic life support) to the residents and businesses of the City of Brentwood, and Oakley, and to the Township of Discovery Bay, Bethel Island, Knightsen, Byron, Marsh Creek, and Morgan Territory.
As of July 1, 2017, ECCFPD has three (3) fire stations staffed by three (3) firefighters, for a total district staffing of nine (9) firefighters per day, The district responds to over 6,900 calls a year that depend on approximately 9,000 fire engine responses.
ECCFPD's Master Plan, calls for nine (9) stations to adequately provide coverage to the District's citizens and businesses.
Please click on the following links below to review the CityGate Master Plan that was developed to define the districts current capabilities and the level of capabilities that is recommended for an adequate level of fire and rescue protection for the district's citizens and businesses.Contra Costa County Fire&EMS MSR Final Report with Attachments 8-10-16(1).pdfVol 1 - ECCFPD Deployment and Staffing Study - Executive Summary (06-15-....pdfVol 2 - ECCFPD Deployment and Staffing Study - Technical Report (06-15-1....pdf
ADDITIONAL DISTRICT INFORMATION
What area does the District serve?
ECCFPD provides Fire, Rescue, and EMS Services in a 249 square mile area of Eastern Contra Costa County. This area contains a broad range of land classifications; urban, rural, and what is formally designated Frontier/Wilderness. The District covers the Cities of Brentwood and Oakley, the Town of Discovery Bay, the communities of Byron, Bethel Island, and Knightsen, the Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory area, and all to the East of Clayton. It serves a population of ~115,000. The Cities of Pittsburg and Antioch are not part of the District, and are served by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (CONFIRE).
What form of Government is the District?
ECCFPD exists under the California Constitution as a Special District, governed by its own Board of Directors.
For more information on what a Special District is and what do they do please click on the following link:
How is the District funded?
The great bulk of normal District funding comes from a fixed percentage of the 1% Property Tax on assessed valuation of all parcels within the District (since the passage of Proposition 13). The actual percentage is set by State Law.
What is the District’s relationship to Contra Costa County Government or City Government?
The District has entered into various agreements with Contra Costa County and the Cities of Brentwood and Oakley for certain services to the district and/or the provision of fire stations. Aside from that, the District does not drive the Budget or Policy decisions of Contra Costa County, the City of Brentwood, or the City of Oakley, and vice versa. The District is not funded by the General Funds of any of those entities. The District can contract with Contra Costa County and the City of Brentwood for certain financial, HR, and IT services, at applicable rates.
What is the District’s relationship to CAL FIRE?
The District has a contractual relationship with CAL FIRE (The Amador Contract) that enables CAL FIRE to serve as First Responder in the Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory area (From their Sunshine station on Marsh Creek Road). ECCFPD pays CAL FIRE to keep that station open in the non-wildfire season when it would otherwise be closed.
The District’s Funding Problem
Why is funding for the Fire District so inadequate?
Proposition 13 was passed in 1978, setting an absolute property tax limit of 1% of assessed valuation (AV) for all local governments combined, and allowing for an annual maximum AV increase of 2% unless and until the property changed hands. When Proposition 13 passed, all Contra Costa County local governments combined had a tax rate of 2.797% of assessed valuation; the next year, the figure was 1.246%. This resulted in an average revenue reduction of ~55% within Contra Costa County. Proposition 13 also tasked the State Legislature with determining how to allocate this amount among the various local governments. A temporary fix was passed in 1978 as Senate Bill 154, followed by the permanent fix in 1979 as Assembly Bill 8 (AB 8). The basis for the formula was the existing proportion of total revenue collected by each local government prior to Proposition 13 passage.
In 1978 what is now ECCFPD was predominantly rural and agricultural, served by several districts of volunteer or Paid-on-Call Firefighters. For this reason, fire suppression costs were quite low compared to other government functions, so the local Fire organizations received a relatively small percentage of the property tax. The percentages were then set by State law, and are applied by State and County financial staff. No local officials have any choice regarding these percentages.
The current ECCFPD was formed by the County Board of Supervisors in November of 2002 and inherited the various property tax percentages on an area-by-area basis. Since 1978, considerable population growth has occurred and the very nature of the District has changed. The formula has not. The District is now far more urban in its core areas, but still has responsibility for rural and wildland areas covering considerable territory. The increased costs with servicing the expanding urban area have not been matched by the increased revenue. That is the underlying basis for the District’s financial difficulties.
Are there other large sources of funds the District has access to?
No. We have no access to the either cities or the county’s General Fund. We receive a portion of the $10 County EMS fee, which provides ~2% of our budget. We receive income from two Community Facilities District, that of Cypress Lakes (Summer Lakes) and Delta Coves (Bethel Island) which provides ~1.5% of our budget. Historically, Fire Suppression has been funded only with Property Tax.
Was this crisis caused solely by the Great Recession and drop in property values?
Not entirely. The problems have been growing since the creation of the District. At the height of the housing boom (FY 2007/8), the district had revenues of $12,030,152. However, The CityGates Report of 2006 envisioned a need for 10 fire stations (up from 8), 93 fire suppression personnel (up from 57), and Advanced Life Support capability. The tax base would not support this, even in boom times. In addition, the run-up in pension costs was beginning. The peak 40% drop in Assessed Valuation accelerated the crisis, and in 2010 the local Board began the necessary cutbacks.
PAY & BENEFITS FACT SHEETs
What do our Firefighters earn?
ECCFPD’s current 5-step salary schedule shows the following range of monthly Base Salaries:
- Firefighter- $4,961 to $5,470
- Sr. Firefighter- $5,085-6,181
- Engineer- $5,553 to $6,750
- Captain- $6,117 to $7,435
- Battalion Chiefs- $6,470 to $7,807
- Fire Chief- $15,750
How do these salaries compare with neighboring Fire organizations?
The District’s salary schedules are about 15% less than our neighboring district (CONFIRE) and about 20% less than Countywide average.
What other Benefits does the District provide to retirees and active members?
For active Employees, the District provides a health and dental plan through CALPERS. The District pays 87% and the retirees pays 13% of the Kaiser base rate.
The District also provides a health plan for Retirees through CALPERS. To be eligible, the Employee must retire directly from this District with a minimum of 10 years service. Further, at age 65 the Retiree must enroll in Medicare and make the CALPERS plan secondary, which reduces cost significantly. The District pays 87% and the Employee 13% of the Kaiser base rate.
The District provides a Pension Plan through the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association, or CCCERA. Pensions and their associated funding problems are discussed in more depth in a separate FAQ below.
In addition to the Pension funding problems, is there a problem with funding the Medical Plans?
Not with respect to the Medical Plan for active Employees. Since Retiree Medical involves future events, the District is working on a new actuarial study, and has a plan in place to pre-fund these obligations by Fiscal Year 2018/19. There is no current legal requirement to do so, but the District works to prudently manage all of its future obligations.
By the way, what do Board Members earn?
Members of the ECCFPD Board serve without compensation.
What about Pension Unfunded Liability (Sometimes called “Past Costs or, UAAL”)?
Governmental agencies throughout California now have to pay large amounts from their budgets to make up for previous underfunding, benefit increases and changing actuarial assumptions. The District is no exception. It must by law make good on previous obligations that were made before the local District became an independent agency with a Board of Directors. This is quite expensive.
See the ECCFPD Benefits Fact Sheet for details. The District pays 100% of these payments for past costs, is current with its obligations, and budgets to remain current with its obligations.
If the Employee Joined the retirement system before January 1, 2013 (Classic Employee):
Pension is 3% of the single highest-paid year for every year of service (up to 33 ½ years, 100% of pay).
Unused Vacation, Holiday Pay, and the Uniform Allowance may be added to Base Pay for purposes of calculation.
The full pension may be taken beginning at age 50.
If the Employee joined the retirement system for the first time on or after January 1, 2013 (PEPPRA Employee):
Pension is 2.7% of the average of the three highest-paid years for every year of service (up to 30 years).
Base Pay only may be used for purposes of calculation.
The full pension may be taken beginning at age 57.
The Employer and Employee contribution rate is determined as a percentage of Employee’s Base Salary.
Amount is paid to CCCERA, 80-90% by the District and 20-10% by the Employee.
The employee’s ratio depends upon the Employee’s age at entry into the plan.
The District no longer pays any part of the Employee’s contribution.
Funding for Pension Unfunded Liability (Sometimes called “Past Costs or, UAAL”)
Set by actuarial study and projected rates of return on investments of pension funds by CCCERA.
Three main factors:
a) the number and age distribution of current employees paying into the system.
b) the number, age distribution, and projected mortality rates of retirees.
c) the expected average rate of return on investment over time.
Projections change over time, so total pension liability (and therefore unfunded liability) is a moving target.
Current past cost for ECCFPD is ~$24 Million.
CCCERA sets contribution rates so that if all factors were to remain constant pensions would be fully funded at the end of 18 years.
(NOTE—Pension accounting and administration is an extremely complex subject. The discussion below is very simplified, but strives to be factually correct as far as it goes. All details are a matter of Public Record, and are available thru CCCERA. Their website is http://www.cccera.org/.)
How does the District provide pension benefits?
ECCFPD is a member of the Contra Costa County Employees Retirement Association (CCCERA) which collects for and administers Pension benefits to District employees.
How much is the Pension?
Pension specifics are at http://www.cccera.org/. A simplified version for ECCFPD Safety employees is in the District Benefits Fact Sheet
How is the Pension funded?
CCCERA sets a contribution rate as a percentage of each Employee’s base salary. For details see the ECCFPD Benefits Fact Sheet. Each Firefighter pays from $1100 to $2000 per month toward the pension.
Why did pensions costs grow so unsustainably large?
Prior to July 1, 2005, ECCFPD had a “2% at 50” pension plan. This was increased to “3% at 50” (and the increase was made completely retroactive) in a 2003 vote by the County Board of Supervisors, (which was then also the ECCFPD Board of Directors). What is now the local Board of Directors did not exist. In 2003, the current strict requirements requiring governmental agencies to account for Retirement Plan performance and Past Costs (AKA future liabilities) did not exist, and thus the true effects of this change were not widely understood at the time.
What about “pension spiking”?
The type and amount of pension “add-ons” has historically been set by each individual agency and communicated to CCCERA to be administered. The District has never engaged in nor condoned excessive “add-ons”.
Is the District helping pay for the inflated pension obligations of other agencies?
No. When CCCERA became aware of the growing disparities between various agencies, the former single pool of all agencies was ended in 2009. This “de-pooling” was carried out by recalculating all pools all the way back to 2002. The District now shares a pool with CONFIRE only, which is intended to stabilize our per-Employee cost.
EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
Why and how are Fire Organizations involved with Emergency Medical Services (EMS)?
By law, the provision of Emergency Medical Services is a County responsibility. Several years ago, Contra Costa County put into place an integrated EMS system, involving Hospitals and Trauma Centers, Fire organizations, and private medical transport firms (both ground transport and medical helicopter). Some of the funding for this system comes from a $10 fee on every parcel in the county, with a discount for parcels in those Fire Districts that have their own ambulance services. An intregral part of this plan is the sending of a Fire unit to certain medical calls.
The medical profession has become increasingly aware of the urgent time factor in treating many medical conditions. Cardiac and Respiratory arrest are the most obvious situations, but others exist. The speed with which treatment for Heart Attack or Stroke is begun has a great effect on outcome. Other conditions may not seem too serious at first, but without immediate treatment can rapidly lead to a more serious medical condition. Given all this, it is crucial that some medically knowledgeable assistance arrive as soon as possible. By design, the nearest resource is usually a fire engine.
Does a fire engine respond with each ambulance? If not, who decides?
A fire engine is not sent on every medical call. The Contra Costa Regional Fire Communications Center receives fire/medical calls for most of the County, and their Dispatchers are trained and certified to gather information on medical symptoms and determine potential severity for medical problems. When a 911 fire/medical call is received, the dispatcher asks a uniform set of initial questions, determines the nature of the problem and then asks specific questions based on the problem type. Based on severity of reported symptoms, both fire and ambulance (~75% of calls) or an ambulance alone (~25% of calls) will be sent to the scene.
A multi-level scale of medical severity has been established and fire engines respond on the top four levels of this scale. The fifth level is responded to without lights and siren, primarily by an ambulance alone. The Contra Costa County EMS Medical Director is responsible for determining the baseline response of fire and ambulance resources for medical calls, in conformance with national standards.
Isn’t an ambulance crew sufficient to deal with the situation once they arrive?
Not in all cases. Ambulances are staffed by two persons, one of which is the driver. Sustained CPR requires more than one person. Many times, one or two Firefighters accompany the patient in the ambulance to assist in maintaining CPR during transport, and are picked up by their engine at the hospital. Other situations need Firefighters to assist in lifting the patient, especially in situations with difficult access. Where a medical helicopter is required—a frequent occurrence in far East County—a Fire Captain or Battalion Chief is needed to establish a safe landing zone and coordinate with the helicopter Pilot.
WHAT HAS THE DISTRICT DONE TO LIVE WITHIN Its MEANS
What has the District done so far to live within its means?
Control of the District passed to a local Board in February of 2010. Since then, the District has closed five (5) of the original eight (8) District fire stations; reduced Fire Suppression employees from 57 full time employees to 31; frozen salaries from 2007 until 2012; reduced Administrative employees from four to two; sold its surplus equipment; and reduced budgeted expenditures to a minimum. The recent Contract with Firefighters Local 1230 put into place the Governor’s pension reform program, and provides that all Union employees pay the full cost of the Employee contribution toward their pension. The Contract also provides for a “cash in-lieu” benefit of $400 per month for any Firefighter who foregoes the District health plan and has alternative coverage through a Spouse or Partner. If this benefit is chosen, the District cost is reduced by as much as $1100 per month.
Following the defeat of Measure S in June of 2012, the District closed an additional three fire stations and reduced Fire Suppression employees to 30. The District received a two-year ~$7.8 Million Staffing for Enhanced Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the Federal Government in November of 2012, and was able to hire or rehire 18 Firefighters and reopen two of the stations. The SAFER Grant funding run out in November of 2014.
What if I want to take a closer look at these facts and figures?
Current and historical figures since February 2010 are available in Staff Reports on our Website. Any and all members of the public are welcome at our monthly Fire Board meeting, generally the first Monday of each month at 6:30 P.M. at Brentwood City Hall. The District’s Board meetings can also be live streamed via the District’s website. To go deeper into details and engage in informal discussion, the public is welcome at meetings of our two standing Board Committees (Finance & Public Outreach). Meeting locations, schedules and agendas are available at www.eccfpd.org.
The Importance of Response Times:
What is the role of time in Fire Suppression?
It is crucial. Absent any passive intervention such as sprinklers, a fire started in interior furnishings can spread to a deadly “flashover” in 10 minutes or less. An exterior fire against the wall of a wood and stucco home can begin to penetrate the building in 5 minutes. A vehicle fire can involve the entire garage interior in 6 minutes and penetrate to the attic (threatening the entire house) in 4 more minutes. Once fire takes hold, smoke from a fire can achieve deadly levels in less than 10 minutes. A fire can double in size every 10 minutes. Depending on conditions, a vegetation fire can double in size every 1 to 2 minutes.
How does time affect the organization of a Fire Service?
A Fire service serving an urban or suburban area is laid out to have a fire station within 5 miles of any structure. The goal, according to national standards, is for the “first due” engine company to arrive within 4 minutes of leaving the station. Fifteen firefighters are required to adequately and safely attack a structure fire. With the ECCFPD’s current 3 engine model, national standards call for the fifth engine to arrive within 10 minutes of leaving its station, so that Firefighters can shift from defensive mode to actually attacking the fire at its heart. Since the District has only three (3) fire stations most structure fires will be dealt with in a defensive manner with the primary objectives being.
1. Life safety (Firefighters and Citizens)
2. Preventing the fire from spreading to adjacent structures
3. Minimizing the size and the damage from fire
What is the role of time in medical emergencies?
For some conditions, such as full stoppage of heart or breathing, time is as crucial as it is for a serious fire. After three to four minutes, the likihood of death or serious brain damage increases 10% for each additional minute. In cases of breathing difficulty, a Patient’s condition can worsen quickly if not supplemented within eight to ten minutes. External bleeding, if not soon controlled, can lead to serious consequences. For a heart attack, the goal is to have surgical intervention taking place within the first hour. The goal is much the same for a treatable stroke. Penetrating wounds or internal bleeding require treatment at a Trauma Center as quickly as possible.
Why is the Fire service involved so heavily in Emergency Medical Services?
The entire countywide EMS system is dependent upon Fire service participation. Fire engines remain in their specific areas as much as possible when not being assembled to fight a serious fire. Ambulances tend to roam, and are often heading toward or returning from a hospital. As a result, a fire engine is often likely to be closer—and arrive sooner—than an ambulance. This is the principal reason that the Fire service has become involved in EMS for certain serious medical conditions. Given the time considerations discussed above, for those critical conditions both a fire engine and and an ambulance are dispatched.
What can an ECCFPD engine company do in a serious medical emergency?
The District provides what is called “Basic Life Support” Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), While not as far-reaching as “Advanced Life Support” (Paramedics) available in other Districts within the County, it can still do a great deal. CPR can be started. Oxygen can be administered. An Automated External Defibrillator can be used for heart stoppage. Bleeding can be controlled. Arms or legs can be splinted. If spinal injury is likely, the patient can be immobilized. Basic measures for shock can be taken. An unconscious patient can be positioned to facilitate breathing. In general, a trauma patient can be prepared for transporting. If medical helicopter transport is needed, for trauma related emergencies, (often the case in our District), the Fire Service chooses the helispot and coordinates the landing and takeoff of the helicopter.
What if the Fire or Emergency Medical condition does not prove to be so dire?
The first competent Fire or EMS professional to arrive on a scene does a rapid assessment of the situation and the likely resources needed. In some cases, the ambulance crew may arrive first, rapidly assess the situation, and cancel the Fire response if it is not needed. Unneeded resources can easily be canceled enroute and returned to their previously dispersed condition. In most cases, Fire resources are released as quickly as possible, as soon as the ambulance crew can finish dealing with the situation on their own. What can never be done is making up for lost minutes. Fires and serious medical emergencies do not give second chances.
Volunteers & Paid on Call
What is ECCFPD’s history with Volunteer and Paid-on-Call Firefighters?
Historically, the area now served by the District was served by a number of volunteer fire organizations, back when the District was primarily rural and agricultural. Gradually (in some areas) a system of hourly compensation for training and firefighting time was instituted, known as Paid-on-Call or POC. As the area grew in population and firefighting complexity, staffing became more professional and full-time. The last POC Company (Knightsen) was replaced by professionals in 2007.
A hybrid Career/POC program was in place at the formation of the current District, and the numbers of POC firefighters began to decrease. Some POC personnel made the transition to Career status, and others became medically ineligible. By 2012, there were 10 POC Firefighters and 5 Auxiliary personnel. Following the defeat of Measure S in 2012, this program was discontinued to conserve funds during the downsizing to three stations.
What has the District done to revive a POC program?
In June of 2012, the Board directed Staff to put out a call for Volunteers to train as POC Firefighters. It was felt that a minimum of 100 applications would have to be received to assemble a usable group of 40-50 POC Firefighters. ~60 Applications were received, and not all were for POC Firefighter status. The Board directed abandonment of this effort in September of 2012 when the SAFER grant was received.
How hard would it be to restart a POC program to actually fight fires?
First, consider what characteristics a useful POC Firefighter must have:
a) Be in a proper age range, state of health, and high degree of physical fitness for the rigors of firefighting.
b) Be a resident of the District &/or have a job within the District that can be left at a moment’s notice.
c) Be able to pass a stringent background check.
d) Be able to devote considerable personal time to training.
Then there are the necessary elements of assembling a group of POC Firefighters:
a) Recruitment: 30-40 days of advertisement, accepting applications.
b) Selection Process: Application review, interviews, background checks, medical review.
c) Training: 240 hours of initial fire training, 60 hrs of medical training, 100 hrs of driving emergency apparatus training, 240 hours of annual refresh/updates.
d) Safety Equipment: One set of structure firefighting turnouts, one set of wildland firefighting gear, self-contained breathing apparatus mask, personal medical safety bag, uniforms.
e) Worker’s Compensation: A separate policy for POC Firefighters is required by the District’s Worker’s Compensation insurance carrier.