LAFAYETTE -- A city task force is moving ahead with finding ways to improve fire and emergency service delivery here following the closure of a fire station last January.
But the group won't spend as much energy trying to get a new fire station, planning to instead look at ways the services can best be delivered to residents.
That direction was given by city leaders Feb. 10 to members of the Lafayette Emergency Services Task Force, who have been meeting since August. It also follows recent statements by representatives of the Contra Costa Fire Protection District and the Moraga-Orinda Fire District that neither entity currently has the capital funds to build a proposed joint fire station.
Pitched by fire chiefs who have since left the districts, that facility would replace both the Lafayette station shut during a wave of station closures last year by county supervisors who oversee ConFire and a nearby MOFD station on Via Las Cruces in Orinda slated for reconstruction.
The council guidance also followed input -- and some admonishment -- from United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230 President Vince Wells, who has challenged Lafayette's stance that the city no longer receives the service its paying for from the county.
Wells suggested the task force has been focusing more on financial matters plaguing the districts -- such as unfunded liabilities and pension costs -- than fire service delivery itself.
"One of the things I never heard discussed at any of the meetings was actually putting fires out," Wells told the council. "There was never any discussion about how many firefighters it takes to put out a fire, cut people out of cars, rope rescue and all the other services that we provide."
Wells, a county fire captain, also challenged a task force suggestion that Lafayette consider keeping one of its remaining two facilities as a "primary fire station." Two or more medical teams could then be placed throughout the city because of what the group says is the "dominance" of medical calls over fire calls.
Wells said he wasn't sure the community would back that type of service level in a city whose "urban wildland interface" -- areas where homes are built near or among wildfire-prone land -- is similar to that in the Oakland hills.
The suggestion to ramp up medical response falls in line with a recent study of county fire services commissioned by Contra Costa supervisors. The Fitch Study lists one possible option for maximizing emergency medical and fire service is to replace dual fire and emergency medical service personnel as they retire or leave with EMS-only staffers. Such a move, the study's authors say, would lower personnel costs.
As for the new fire station, councilman and task force member Brandt Andersson attempted to persuade his colleagues that the joint fire station 46 could still be a possibility despite both district's dismal finances.
Following councilmen Mike Anderson and Mark Mitchell's input that the task force focus less on the new station than on service delivery, Andersson explained the station could still be at least partially funded even though the county has not permanently committed to the facility.
Andersson said possible sales of MOFD's Orinda property, the shuttered Lafayette station property and a portion of the $1.22 million property MOFD bought in Lafayette last year for the joint station, could help finance that station's estimated $3 to $6 million design and construction. "I hope we didn't paint too bleak a picture on that point," Andersson said.
Supervisors in May decided against negotiating an agreement with MOFD to purchase the Lafayette property after closing a fire station in Pittsburg; in July, the county proposed waiving its portion of payment for new station staffing for five years when ConFire's finances stabilize.
"At this point, (the station is) something we ought to be focused on," said Mayor Don Tatzin. "But I think the responsible agencies have to step up first and then we need to look at ways to get the services that our residents want and are willing to pay for which is a combination of emergency services and fire." The task force has also been studying detaching from the county and contracting fire services.
The task force meets again at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 inside conference room 240 at the Lafayette city offices.