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Concord Firefighters Talk About Not Fighting Fires

NPR reporters spent some time riding around with Concord firefighters for a story on the question of fire station funding and pensions. What happens when your heroes cost too much?

Are firefighters actually fighting fires anymore?

Not really, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fire departments respond to 40 percent fewer fires now than they did 30 years ago, thanks to building and materials upgrades. There aren't as many fires, and yet fire departments still retain the bulky trucks, many stations and expensive firefighting staff. Add six-figure pensions to the total bill, and the question arises: What happens when your heroes cost too much?

NPR reporters headed out to Concord for an answer.

What they found was that instead of battling flames, firefighters respond mostly to emergency calls for paramedics. Don Johansen of Concord's fire station 6 told NPR that he'd rather be fighting fires than responding to medical calls, which sometimes require little or no action from the team and none at all from the hefty fire truck outside.

That's an expense that Contra Costa County taxpayers decided in the Nov. 6 election they wouldn't be willing to fund. Measure Q failed — shocking the fire fighting community who thought it would be an easy pass, according to NPR — and now four fire stations in Central Contra Costa County — including Clayton — will be de-staffed or shut down to offset a budget deficit.

So what's a firefighter worth these days? NPR asks. Listen to the story online here.

How do you think firefighters should be funded? Does the pension system need to change? Should stations be shut down and fire trucks retired? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Quick Facts December 19, 2012 at 07:20 AM
Unfortunately, many of the comments expressed in this radio show are either factually incorrect or leave out the rest of the story. What they didn't say was that when the Pension Fund was sailing in the early 2000's with double digit returns, the county opted to not contribute to the fund and let the earnings make the contribution instead, allowing Contra Costa County to spend the money on other pet projects including a multiple billion dollar hospital. The Paramedics treating the patient was a firefighter paramedic in addition to an AMR Paramedic (yes some patients need 2 Paramedics). The Firefighters in Contra Costa pay the most for those pensions, and contrary to what was said were negotiating for lower pension tiers/benefits, when the governor passed his reform(s). The part of this story that is most telling is the hatred and personal vendetta displayed by Dan Borenstein and the Contra Costa Times towards firefighters and the service they provide to the community. Forget the fact that the Police & Sheriff have the exact same pension and they pay less than half what firemen pay.
Concord Mike December 19, 2012 at 06:35 PM
So glad the truth is finally coming to the attention of the public. The Firefighters Union has padded pensions and benefits to an extreme, and imposed work restrictions that make firefighters much less productive. In additon to drastically reduced pensions, firefighting should be placed under the control of the police department, and firefighters should be required to work the same hours as the police are. FIrestations could become police substations. Much more efficient use of resources.
Quick Facts December 20, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Concord Mike must live in a dream world. I am curious about what "Work Restrictions" the union has put into place. Your suggestion of placing Firefighters on 8 or 12 hour shifts shows just how ignorant that comment is. To cover with 12 hour shifts, it would take a tleast 25% more employees, that is exactly what the fire district needs is another 25 million added to their budget, right? You sound like a jealous cop or wanna be cop. You have no creditability based on your past comments. If you are so excited about a "Public Safety" model, go ahead and move to Sunnyvale or Rohnert Park. That model may work well in small towns, but in Concord with a population of 130K, the first time that there is a hot crime in progress, the officers would not be able to respond to Fires, Medicals, Etc. The whold "shared resource" idea sounds great on paper, but if it were so great, every city and town across the country would adopt that model.

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