CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (July 13, 2022) — East Contra Costa County residents and those in the rural Marsh Creek/Morgan Territory area can sleep a bit better with the annexation of the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District (ECCFPD) to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (Con Fire) at a solemn ceremony July 1.
“Our communities are safer today and will be safer in the future. That’s the bottom line,” said a jubilant Diane Burgis, District 3 county supervisor.
Annexation will double the number of fire stations in the long-underserved East County from three to six by 2024, dramatically reducing response times, and adding paramedics and advanced life support on every engine.
“Annexation … is important to the county as a whole,” ECCFPD chief Brian Helmick said. “It’s been many, many years that we haven’t been able to answer all the calls we get without … utilizing mutual aid.”
“Today is a good day,” noted Con Fire deputy chief Aaron McAlister.
The annexation is especially welcome to residents in the ultra-high fire risk zones of Marsh Creek and Morgan Territory, who live most of the year with noses to the wind and one ear on Pulse Point. For them, unless it’s raining, it’s fire season.
Former ECCFPD director Susanna Thompson has frightening firsthand experience with the inadequate fire protection provided by the underfunded and overworked district. She nearly lost her Marsh Creek Road ranch in the 2017 Deer Complex fire, when four wildfires broke out within minutes of each other – maxing out the district’s limited resources.
As flames approached her fence line, she called 911 only to be told there were no resources available to send. Thompson and her husband Tony were left to fight off the flames alone until engines from Con Fire in Antioch arrived about 15 minutes later.
“I have pictures of Tony on the tractor scooping up buckets of s*** on fire and throwing it back over the fence before the fire department got here,” she recalled.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who made annexation happen, but especially grateful to the ECCFPD firefighters who stuck with us through thick and thin,” she told the Pioneer.
“There have never been any physical barriers between the two districts,” Thompson added. “Only administrative ones. It was time to remove those barriers.”
Annexation will add East County’s 128,000 residents and 250 square miles to Con Fire, bringing the new district to 553 square miles with a population of 753,000.
More than two years in the planning, annexation was made possible with money from Measure X, the half-cent sales tax hike voters approved in 2020. With those funds, Con Fire immediately reopened shuttered Station 95 in Oakley and plans to open a new Station 86 in Bay Point this summer. Two new stations in Brentwood will be completed in 2024.
Cal Fire’s Sunshine station on Marsh Creek Road provides additional protection year around. During the May-November fire season Cal Fire covers the cost of the station. Con Fire contracts with Cal Fire to keep the station open the rest of the year.
The beleaguered ECCFPD has been critically underfunded since its inception in 2002. Ballot measures to raise revenue through a parcel tax in 2010 and a Benefit Assessment District in 2017 were both failed to pass.
“What you are seeing today is an example of leadership,” Burgis said. “People with a lack of ego and super commitment and intelligence committed to finding a solution.”
[Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated Cal Fire responded to Thompson’s 911 call “later in the morning”. Cal Fire response was about 15 minutes after the initial call.]