First responders don't usually have office hours -- If you have an emergency, please call between 2 and 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday -- but that's the situation in Clayton these days. The town's fire station (No. 11) has been staffed only six hours a day, six days a week since funding became an issue.
The arrangement is not wholly preposterous. Firefighters at Concord's Crystyl Ranch station (No. 22), which now serves Clayton but is several miles to the west, operate from station No. 11 in the afternoon to avert traffic delays during the evening commute on Ygnacio Valley Road.
This is but one piece of a daunting puzzle that has confronted Chief Daryl Louder since Measure Q, the Contra Costa Fire Protection District parcel tax, failed in November and he began cutting staffing expenses to make budget. He studied call volumes, traffic flows and other factors to minimize risk before closing station Nos. 4 (Walnut Creek), 12 (Martinez) and 16 (Lafayette). Strategic considerations notwithstanding, he still incurred the wrath of affected residents.
But none of the moves has stung as bitterly -- or, at least, evoked as much reaction -- as the one in Clayton. Other communities have additional firehouses. Clayton has only one, for which the town ponied up nearly $700,000.
It was, in fact, because of Clayton protests (and concerns over possible reimbursement owed the town) that the district did not shut it down and the 2-to-8 p.m. compromise emerged. Residents aren't exactly comforted by that.
Monday night marked the second meeting of the city council's fire services ad hoc committee, at which residents aired concerns and listened to safety measures the city hopes to implement -- Community Emergency Response Team training, defibrillators, CPR and first-aid classes.
Attendees also had suggestions. One proposed a town picnic, featuring booths with trained instructors who could demonstrate first-aid measures and proper fire extinguisher technique. Another wanted the councils from the nine cities in the district to demand greater input in governing oversight, which currently falls to county supervisors.
The dialogue spanned more than a dozen speakers and nearly two hours, conjuring visions of an old-fashioned town hall meeting, with everything but a call for volunteer firefighters. Mayor Julie Pierce nipped that idea in the bud by explaining that volunteers would have to be as exhaustively trained as professionals -- and anyone who underwent such training would expect to be paid.
The meeting was an invitation to be proactive. All ideas were welcome, which included one for the town to fund its own EMS service (estimated cost: $400,000 per year). The mayor soberly calculated that would mean a tax of $100 per parcel -- or $25 more than Measure Q, which residents voted down.
The meetings are intended to seek input, promote safety measures and share information, Councilman Howard Geller said. He's not convinced that all who rejected Measure Q fully understand what has been put at risk.
Other communities might take note. If property taxes, which fund the district, don't pick up as hoped, Louder said he may have to cut expenses further.
Clayton residents know what that can mean -- trying to schedule your emergencies between 2 and 8 p.m.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org