MARTINEZ -- Contra Costa County fire Chief Jeff Carman, responding to a consultant's recent recommendations, proposed some modest short-term operational and funding changes at Board of Supervisors meeting this week.

He also noted the fire district already has made great strides to improve data collection, data entry and communications.

The consultant, Fitch and Associates, proposed ways to optimize the district's use of resources within current fiscal limitations. The district has projected a $10.2 million deficit in a fiscal 2014-15 budget of about $106 million.

That study came under fire from some advocates of fire service reform for ignoring what they saw as a primary cause of the district's bleak finances: high firefighter salaries. Carman's presentation to the board did not address that topic either.

The Fitch report proposed three service options, including maintaining the status quo. Carman characterized that suggestion as misleading, noting the district operates differently from the way it operated 10 years, five years or even one year ago.

The second option would convert as many as four existing three-person engine companies to six two-person medical vehicle squads. That option acknowledges the trend, both nationwide and local, of diminishing volumes of fire-related calls and growing numbers of medical calls -- 66 percent of all incidents in the district are medical, according to the latest figures.

Carman said that option "does nothing for the district financially" and would provide minimal improvement to response times and could adversely affect fire response.


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He did, however, say two-person medical squads are beneficial if used strategically, an example being in areas with a high volume of medical calls where a ladder truck might otherwise be dispatched.

Current plans call for deploying two-person squads at the downtown Concord and downtown Walnut Creek stations to supplement, not replace, existing models of deployment.

Fitch third option outlined a "single patch" system under which the district would deploy some lower-salaried paramedics in place of firefighters dually certified for fire and medical response. Carman said more information is needed, but he noted such a model is being used in Sacramento and soon will be in the Moraga-Orinda fire district.

Carman also proposed diversifying revenues to wean the district from reliance on fluctuating property taxes. Possible strategies include contracts, fees and a parcel tax or benefit assessment.

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