Goes into effect tomorrow, Sept. 17; Board supports LAFCO consolidation of fire departments
By Daniel Borsuk
With the clock ticking, a battalion of upset Contra Costa County Fire District fire fighters remotely protested before the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors that they refuse to obey a “draconian” August 13 Contra Costa Health Services order requiring county first responders to be fully vaccinated or face termination.
The county health order that goes into effect Friday, Sept. 17 was drafted by Contra Costa County Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano and adopted by the board of supervisors in a closed session because of its employment ramifications for many veteran fire fighters and sheriff deputies and other first responders who might refuse to take the vaccine for personal, political or religious reasons.
Dr. Farnitano claims the tough vaccine employment order for first responders arises at a time the number of COVID-19 patients in county hospitals is on the rise.
But a check with the Contra Costa Health Department’s COVID-19 website shows there are 154 COVID-19 patients in county hospitals. That is down 9.3 percent over the past two weeks, the CCCHD website showed.
In addition, the county health department reported 2,421 active COVID-19 cases. That is down 45.9 percent from two weeks ago.
Nearly 85 percent of Contra Costa residents are vaccinated, county health department data shows. The national vaccination rate is 73.9 percent.
The new vaccine employment edict applies to fire department and sheriff office personnel. There were no personnel from the sheriff’s office who protested against Dr. Farnitano’s vaccination/employment order.
Nearly 40 firefighters, many with more than 20 years in service, from all ranks including engineers, firefighters, and captains, protested against the county health officer’s order.
“This is an infringement of our freedom of choice,” said Collin Spencer, a fire fighter/paramedic.
Upon opposing the vaccine mandate, fire fighter Nick Sandburg, a father of two with a “pregnant wife” commented, “I don’t think the vaccine is effective. I oppose the vaccine mandate. Just give us universal testing.”
“None of us took this lightly,” said District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff. “This is about protecting the public.”
District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen was more direct commenting “I am really shocked about the misinformation that our fire fighters have about the COVID-19 vaccine. Somewhere there is a big disconnect.”
It’ll be interesting what the fire fighters will do when the Sept. 17 deadline arrives. The county could be in a major fire crisis if large numbers of well trained, experienced fire fighters are let go especially during the start of the county’s peak fire season.
In the past month, there were 206 vegetation fires that CCCFD responded to and in one day there were seven structure fires, reported Contra Costa County Fire Department Chief Louis Brousard III.
Board Supports LAFCO Consolidation of Fire Departments
Supervisors, serving as commissioners of the Contra Costa County Fire District, pushed along on a 5-0 vote to have the Contra Costa Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) to act on consolidating the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District and the financially struggling East Contra Costa Fire Protection District.
ECCFD board member Joe Young told supervisors he will oppose the consolidation at the district’s board meeting on Sept. 16 because the consolidated district will continue to inadequately fund fire services in Oakley, Brentwood, and Discovery Bay. Young not elaborate at the supervisors’ meeting.
“There are a lot of details that have yet to be addressed on consolidation,” admitted CCCFPD Fire Chief Broussard. “We’ll bring leaders from both organizations to make this a successful annexation.”
While giving Board Chair Diane Burgis credit for being a key player in the merger of the two districts, District 1 Supervisor John Gioia said the newly enlarged fire district will draw fire protection upgrades especially with equipment and personnel once “millions of dollars of Proposition X sales tax funds” pour into the district. Gioia was a big backer for the Prop. X ballot measure to appear on last November’s election ballot.
A proposal to consolidate the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District into the enlarged CCCFPD was not considered by the supervisors. That proposal was dropped.