KNIGHTSEN -- Residents in this area of far East County are breathing a little easier since firefighters reported for duty in Knightsen early Sunday morning for the first time in 4½ months.
The station, one of three that closed July 1 after voters rejected a proposed 10-year parcel tax, reopened at 8 a.m. with a three-man crew.
As of noon on Monday, Knightsen engines already had responded to two calls, said East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Chief Hugh Henderson.
The reopening coincided with the start date of a $7.8 million federal grant that will keep the special district afloat for the next 24 months.
The station closures forced the layoff of 15 firefighters; this infusion of money that's earmarked for personnel costs has enabled the agency to rehire eight of those individuals, Henderson said.
All but one of the remaining seven have since found jobs in Santa Maria and Santa Clara, he said.
The rehires also mean that firefighters who were demoted because their positions were eliminated or more senior employees exercised their bumping rights have their former jobs back.
Meanwhile, the district is collecting applications until Wednesday to staff Station 54, the downtown Brentwood station it shuttered.
As of Friday, 134 people had applied for the nine openings there, Henderson said.
Hiring will start next year once applicants have taken a written test and been interviewed as well as undergone a background check and medical exam.
Henderson expects the First Street facility to open sometime next spring.
Bethel Island's fire station also closed, but that building is unlikely to reopen because it would cost as much as $1 million to refurbish. The district's insurance carrier declared the structure uninhabitable after it was found to contain asbestos and mold, and the building, which is below the level of the water surrounding the island, doesn't meet current state and federal flood control standards.
Whether the district will press another station back into service instead remains to be seen, Henderson said.
The same goes for what the district will do once the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant expires.
"We're going to start focusing (on that issue) in January," said Henderson, noting that Brentwood's new representatives on the board -- there will be two or three -- have not yet been sworn in.
Candidates will be interviewed next week and Brentwood's city council is expected to make a decision in December.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her on Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.