MARTINEZ -- A long-awaited consultant's report on the Contra Costa Fire District proposes ways to optimize emergency medical and fire response within current severe fiscal limitations, until voters face another tax initiative, likely in two or three years.

The report, by Fitch and Associates LLC, was the subject of a special town hall meeting Wednesday of the Board of Supervisors sitting as the fire board.

ConFire, which a few years ago operated 28 stations and 30 units spread over 304 square miles, is down to 23 stations, with 23 three-person crews, or 69 firefighters, on duty each day. A two-person medical response vehicle is currently deployed at the downtown Walnut Creek station as part of a pilot program that will be re-evaluated in March.

Voters rejected a November 2012 parcel tax measure that would have raised about $17 million a year for the district. The consultants noted that the fire district would have to prove that it is serious about taking measures to tighten its own belt before asking residents to pay more.

"The public, who will be asked to support another tax initiative in the near future, wants to see that ConFire is embracing change to become more efficient and effective," the report states.

The consultants propose three service options:

  • Option 1: "Maintain Status Quo."

  • Option 2: "Three/Two Staffing" would convert four existing three-person engine companies to six two-person quick-reponse vehicles, which would require no personnel reductions and could potentially lead to reopening two stations.

    This option would not reduce the total number of personnel on duty at any one time, but would deploy them differently. There would be 19 engine companies, each with a staff of three, and six two-person quick-response vehicles, for a total of 69 firefighters.

  • Option 3: A so-called "Single Patch" system under which the district would deploy some lower-salaried EMS (Emergency Medical Service) personnel in place of some dual-certified -- fire and EMS -- personnel, as firefighter attrition occurs. Currently, 78 percent of the district's calls are EMS-related, according to the report.

    Wednesday's presentation highlighted mostly Option 2.

    The fire district's 2014-15 fiscal year budget is projected at about $106 million, with a revenue deficit of about $10 million. Mandatory expenses related to pension bonds and current and unfunded retirement liabilities are slated to eat up about 40 percent of the budget in fiscal 2014-15, decreasing by about 1 percent each of the next two years.

    The report laments the absence in the budget of provisions for vehicle and other capital replacements as equipment ages, leaving the district to scramble for occasional grants to meet minimal capital needs.

    The report makes only brief mention of salaries, although several public comments point to high salaries and benefits as factors in the fire district's financial meltdown.

    The consultant is expected to present its final report to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 25.

    Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.