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California fire department feeling the squeeze; decides to charge hundreds per hour for services

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District will start charging for certain services beginning as early as November. Residents are balking at plan, and the prices. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

The East Contra Costa Fire Protection District board voted 8-1 last week to begin charging fees for some services rendered by the department. But residents are balking at plan, and the prices.

What are the details?

As early as November, the ECCFPD will require payment for aid rendered in the instance of vehicle accidents, hazardous material releases, illegal (intentionally set) fires and water emergencies. The fees range from $448 an hour (per engine) to $6,608 per three hours for handling complex hazmat situations.

Additional charges will be tacked on for the use of other services, such as extra crews, equipment or ambulance services.

"When we didn't pass measures before, the community really challenged the district for not exploring and going after every other ways to find alternative revenue in lieu of asking for property taxes," Fire Chief Brian Helmick said in explaining the decision to The Press.

"This is one other mechanism that we are trying to look at," he said.

Helmick told KPIX-TV the district simply needs the money.

"It's not sustainable. The system we have is not sustainable for our members or citizens. So we have to find additional revenue," he said.  "The revenue that we have, it's a revenue issue, not a spending issue."

Ten to 15 percent of calls are expected to fall under the new fee category, and the district expects to raise about $50,000 annually from the program.

What did the residents say?

Resident Crystal Ramie-Adams told KPIX she was against the plan.

"They should collect it some other way, not on the back of me being hurt when needing service," she said. "They do hard work, but I don't want to pay for a service that's complimentary everywhere else in the world."

Fellow Contra Costa County resident Mike Brown added, "Sounds like you'll get charged twice. 'Cause you're paying your taxes, and then now you're going to get charged every time you call them out."

Neeka B told KPIX, "It's definitely crazy to charge people that's gotten into accidents and stuff. That's outrageous."

Anything else?

The one dissenting vote from the board, Joe Young, declined to comment on his reasons for opposing the fee.

"The public is already paying for the fire district," he told The Press earlier this year, "so what we are doing is cutting out a piece of that and saying we are going to charge specific users, even though as a whole the public has paid for that service."

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