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Saturday, November 13, 2010

CA-SCU: Beloved CAL FIRE Sunshine Station reopened after public outcry

"The closure would have put the nearest fire station district fire crew in Brentwood, 16 miles away."
CLAYTON -- A fire station in a rural area of Contra Costa County has reopened a week after officials closed it because of budget cuts.

Firefighters at the so-called Sunshine Station, which CalFire had been operating on behalf of the East Contra Costa Fire District during the off season, reported for duty at 8 a.m. Monday, said East Contra Costa fire Chief Hugh Henderson. The station is located in the Marsh Creek-Morgan Territory area near Clayton.

The station on Marsh Creek Road wasn't expected to open for another six weeks after the fire district's board decided last week to rescind a decision to keep it closed until May.

Beset with financial troubles, East Contra Costa Fire District's board had not renewed its $366,000 contract with CalFire when it adopted this year's budget in June.

The loss of service in that area blindsided property owners who, unaware of the extent of the budget cuts this summer, turned out in force at the Nov. 1 board meeting to plead with directors to reconsider their decision.

The closure would have put the nearest fire station district fire crew in Brentwood, 16 miles away. As a result, some homeowners faced drastic hikes in insurance premiums or the cancellation of their policies.

The board voted 8-1 that evening to approve a new contract and reopen the station.A CalFire representative in attendance said it would take 45 days to process all the paperwork involved and rehire fiveemployees who had been let go that same day because it was the end of the fire season.

But Henderson and Steve Woodill, the fire chief of CalFire's Santa Clara unit, which includes Contra Costa County, agreed that the process had to be expedited.

The state agency drafted a new contract, Henderson signed it, and the document was sent to CalFire headquarters in Sacramento, where officials approved it.

CalFire also fast-tracked the medical reviews that prospective firefighters must undergo to ensure they're fit to work, said Shana Jones, chief of CalFire's East Bay division.

"It was a team effort. We all put our heads together to make it happen," Henderson said.

Cheryl Morgan, resident of Morgan Territory Road and member of the newly formed East Diablo Fairness Coalition, is happy to see the station reopened. "I think it's the right choice to make because it restores insurance for a lot of people who would be without it," she said. "And it's actually going to stop several foreclosures. I know it's expensive for the district, but I think it's the right solution for the moment and I think we all need to work together for a better solution for next year."

The fact that the new contract involves relatively little money and required rehiring only a handful of employees made it easier to process quickly, Jones noted.

The good news might not last, however.

Instead of saving $366,000, East Contra Costa Fire District now must dig into its reserves to come up with that sum, Henderson said.

"Our financial problem isn't getting any better," he said.

The agency is expected to run out of money before the end of 2012-13, and putting an eight-person crew back in the fire station just made the situation that much worse, Henderson said.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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