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Contra Costa County benefits from fire department consolidation

2023-09-28
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BAY POINT -- More than a year after Contra Costa County unified two fire protection agencies, residents and public safety leaders say they're seeing the benefits of the new alignment of resources for Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. "This is my community, this is a staple that I always wanted to have in Bay Point so I was excited and a little apprehensive," said Shawneshia Hoover, a homeowner in the east county community. "My major worry was that we wouldn't have first responders in a timely fashion." Hoover spent part of her childhood in Bay Point then returned last year to buy a house. She remembers the limited resources that pushed her family to leave when she was growing up and had concerns about whether other communities were still better protected. "One of the things I worry about is not just the first fire but it's the second fire and the third fire," said Aaron McAlister, Con Fire's deputy chief. Last spring county leaders approved merging Con Fire with the East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. The consolidation of the agencies took effect July 1, 2022 with the goal of providing better service for Brentwood, Oakley and smaller communities like Bay Point. "Firefighters were getting run into the ground and not able to protect our communities as a whole," said Brian Oftedal, who serves on the Contra Costa Conty Fire Protection District's advisory fire commission. He pointed out that, before the unification, a handful of firefighters were assigned to the eastern part of the county and were responsible for protecting tens of thousands of residents. This summer the district increased staffing at multiple stations as a result of the consolidation. It remains an important new approach this fall in the critical danger period before the winter rains. An additional advantage is the ability to move resources to respond to a major emergency or to cover personnel shortages at nearby stations. "Previously, we were even using resources from central Contra Costa that had to surge into Antioch and Pittsburg and then surge into far east. So there is a huge benefit even for central county residents that the far east county can now stand on its own," McAlister explained. Hoover said the promise of a faster response was tested during a recent fire across the street from her home. While it was a serious emergency that displaced multiple residents, she was impressed to see crews on scene within minutes. Con Fire explained that part of the challenge in fighting the blaze that day were stiff winds and varying levels of foliage mitigation by homeowners in the neighborhood. "It helped me realize that we're not a forgotten population, that we're not too small for folks to remember that we're here and we deserve safety," Hoover said.

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