PINOLE -- The shuttered Pinole Valley fire station, long a battleground in a citywide debate over the cost and logistics of medical emergency response and firefighting, could be on the road to reopening, courtesy of a federal grant.
But with no certainty of future funds to make the reopening long term, the same bitter battle that accompanied the closing of Station 74 in July 2011 could repeat itself in two or three years.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security SAFER grant is for $1.24 million, spread over two years. The intent of the grant is to hire firefighters laid off from other agencies and, if possible, Armed Forces veterans, which could extend the grant for a third year.
At a special City Council study session on the fire service this week, council members, firefighters, fire Chief Charles Hanley and several residents arrived at a consensus that the grant should be used to run a three-person fire apparatus out of a reopened Station 74.
Meanwhile, the City Council is poised to vote soon on the administrative structure of its fire department and its relationship to neighboring fire districts.
City Manager Belinda Espinosa whittled the list of administration alternatives to three for the council to pick from at an upcoming meeting: continuing the current model, under which Pinole shares its chief with the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District; reverting to a "stand-alone" fire department with its own chief; or contracting for fire service with Rodeo-Hercules.
Espinosa ruled out another alternative, contracting with the Contra Costa County Fire District, explaining that Pinole would have to pay to bring its firefighters up to the county's more generous retirement formula.
Pinole currently is part of the three-agency Battalion 7, with Rodeo-Hercules and the county district's San Pablo and El Sobrante stations.
A draft contract with Rodeo-Hercules would cost $3.1 million next year, about $50,000 more than Pinole's current fire budget.
The current draft calls for a 10-year term, with a 4 percent annual escalator clause. Mayor Debbie Long said she wants a shorter term and to revisit the escalator clause.
An annual cap on Pinole firefighter overtime, $226,800, would remain in place, which if reached could trigger brownouts.
The study session touched only briefly on alternative service models, such as running a two-person, quick-response medical vehicle out of Station 74 rather than a fire apparatus with three people.
Hanley said the two-person model would not be possible under the intent of the grant and national standards.