FAQ's 2

What is fire and how quickly does it spread?

Fire is very rapid chemical oxidation of fuel resulting in the release of light and heat. Ignition sources vary; they can be:

    Electrical (e.g.; lightning or bad wiring),
    Thermal (e.g.: discarded cigarettes, fireworks, unattended barbecues, matches, hot ashes, etc),
    Autoignition (e.g. oily rags)

Speed of fire spread depends on the nature of the materials involved and how much oxidizer (usually oxygen) is present.

To sustain combustion, four components need to be in place: heat, fuel, oxidizer, and a sustained chemical chain reaction. Removing any of these four components will remove active fire. Shown below is the natural progression of unchecked fire, which begins to decay as one of the four elements is removed (slowly). Rapid removal of heat, fuel, oxygen, as well as rapid suppression of the chemical reaction, would suppress a fire more quickly than this curve would indicate.

firesciencegraph

Please note that this represents a fire in a lab. In actuality, a fire in decay stage is still capable of catching a new area on fire, whether the fire was originally confined to one room in a structure fire, or confined to one hillside in a wildland or forest fire.

Firefighters extinguish most fires as soon as possible because putting the fire out is often the fastest way to preserve life and property.

The following videos are meant to demonstrate the speed of fire spread. Note that the fuels involved are different: the Christmas tree in the first video may as well be a small can of gasoline; the chair in the second video was probably made with fire resistant materials (obviously, not fire proof).

When you watch these videos, ask yourself when the fire department would be called and how long you expect it would take the fire department to arrive once dispatched (The industry standard is to have the first engine company arrive within five minutes of the 911 call).

Is it true that firefighters get paid to sleep?

Yes, firefighters are paid for the full 48 hours (or more) that they are on duty. The daily (24 hours) call volume is a wildly erratic variable. Some stations tend to slow down at night while some stations pick up. All stations, regardless of location, have days that buck trends. Either way, there is no way of predicting what and where the next emergency will be. The round the clock coverage assures that the closest resource is available to respond at a moments notice. Sleeping all night does happen, but more times than not firefighters are out in the middle of the night responding to emergencies. Some of the busier engine companies go on five or more calls between midnight and the end of shift at 08:00. The majority of people are not fully aware of what happens in their neighborhood, city and county during the nighttime hours unless it happens to make the morning news.
At night, when call volume allows, firefighters try to sleep. When an emergency occurs the alarm goes off, firefighters don their gear, get on the engine, respond to the emergency and mitigate the emergency. Once back at the station, firefighters restock and clean tools and equipment. All equipment must be restored to readiness immediately. Reports are also required for all incidents. This process start to finish can range from 30 minutes for a false alarm or "routine" medical call to several hours, depending on the emergency. The majority of fire stations respond to several emergencies every night.

Are firefighters paid while they eat?

Firefighters are paid for the full 48 hours they are on duty. During this time we do prepare meals and eat. Because firefighters are always on duty, there is no out of service time for meals. What this means is that at any time firefighters must be readily available to respond to emergencies, even during meals. Emergency calls vary in length from about 30 minutes to several hours.

Is it true that taxpayers pay for firefighters' meals?

It is a common misconception that firefighters "eat for free" on taxpayer's money. In fact firefighters pay individually for their own food. All firefighters split the cost of the days meals amongst themselves. In addition, firefighters alone each contribute equally to a station fund which pays for condiments, newspapers, cable, bottled water, etc. We typically take turns cooking (and sometimes eat out when calls don't allow us to shop). Speaking of shopping, we are often asked, "Why bring the engine?"
The answer to that is simple. Because there are so many variables as to what is scheduled for the day, firefighters typically decide what to do for meals once everyone is at the station and once the chief has laid out the schedule for the day (training for fires, continuing education training for our medical certificates and licenses, station tours, etc.). We then shop after we complete our morning duties at the station. Wherever we go, crews must stay together assuring they are ready to respond to any type of emergency with a full crew. This does bring us further from our station, but it does not take us out of our first-due response area; who knows where the next call will come from? We may be a little closer or a little further. That is impossible to predict.

What do firefighters do all day?

When firefighters aren't running calls during the day, we are:

Maintaining and inspecting equipment
Training (medical continuing education, classroom firefighting continuing education, hands on small and large drills, physical fitness, district video-based training, etc.)
Teaching at public education events (station tours, engine demonstrations at schools, etc.)
Inspecting businesses (for safety and also to familiarize ourselves with the layouts and hazards of our local businesses, so we can be more effective should we have to respond to an emergency there).
Testing and maintaining hydrants (hydrants need to be flushed and pressure tested periodically. Access to hydrants can become a problem when front yards and public areas are allowed to overgrow our hydrants).
Cleaning and maintaining the station.

Firefighters often have to drop these activities to respond to emergencies. They then come back to what they were doing before the call, if possible. Below is a sample schedule. Because emergency calls take priority, this schedule is probably a little closer to a captain's wish list than it is to an actual itinerary.

0800 Shift Begins: All personnel arrive at work and check personal safety equipment. Engineer and firefighter check tools and equipment on the fire engine. The paramedic inventories the medical equipment. The captain receives report from the off-going captain and checks the daily calendar for details the company may need to attend to.
0815 Roll call: The captain coming on duty has a conference call with the Battalion Chief and the other captains in the battalion. The day's schedule of training and other events is discussed; important news and information is passed on; any issues with equipment or apparatus are discussed.
0830 The engineer does a more thorough check of the engine's mechanical parts, assuring proper fluid levels, checking brakes, sirens, fire pumps, chain saws, etc. The firefighter cleans the station (kitchen, bathroom, dorm, apparatus bay). The captain develops a plan for the day based on the information he or she received at roll call. Most stations also have a wildland firefighting rig or a rescue or both that also need to be checked over. The firefighter and captain will often go help the engineer with engine checks once their respective chores have been completed.
0930 Training: Three to four hours of training is a typical part of the day.
1230 Lunch
1330 Hydrant maintenance (hundreds of hydrants need to be tested each year by each company).
1530 Fire and safety inspections at local businesses.
1730 Physical fitness
1830 Dinner
1930 Study time (This is especially important for probationary employees, who have many tests to pass during the course of their probationary year. New employees and newly promoted employees undergo regular testing during their first year).

Typically, after 6pm, the daily business listed above is completed and firefighters prepare for nighttime calls, study, catch up on the day's news, and possibly take a quick shower, while still being available and ready for the next emergency. At night, we do try to get some sleep. The majority of times this is not an option as many stations get busier at night.

Why do firefighters only work two days a week?

Believe it or not, this is a cost saving measure for the employer:
Each firefighter works on a rotating schedule of 48 straight duty hours followed by 96 hours off. This equates to 48 hours (2 days) for every six days. This averages out to a 56 hour work week. It is important to remember that 2 days of a firefighters work schedule (48 hours) is the same amount of time as 6 days work for most people. This schedule provides for 24/7/365 coverage of the communities we serve with only three shifts of personnel.

If we were to move to 40-hour work weeks with eight hour shifts, that would require some combination of three shifts per day (24hrs/8hr shifts=3 shifts) during weekdays, leaving the weekends still in need of coverage. With 48 hours to cover over the weekend, the department would have to hire one full shift of personnel and still be short another eight hours of coverage).
So, moving firefighters to 40-hr shifts from 48-hr shifts would require more employees, which would be an additional cost to the taxpayer.

How does our schedule compare to a 40-hour week?

Firefighters schedule: three shifts: A, B, and C shifts work 48 hours with 96 hours off. This six day cycle averages out to a 56 hour work week on the seven day calendar, or a 240 hour work month.
40 hour schedule: the five day, 8 hour day schedule works out to 40 hours per week and 160 hours per work month. Add a day or two for a long calendar month and you get 168-176 hours per month. If you spend eleven hours at work every week day, you work 11 hour/day x 20 days/month = 220 hours/month. Adding two more days for a calendar month gets you to 242 hours of work in a month. Looking at our schedule from an hours perspective alone, it is approximately equal to working 11 hour days, five days a week.

Why is CCCFPD saying both that they need to close stations and that they need to hire firefighters?

While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in stations closures, we can offer you these reasons the administration is saying these two seemingly contradictory things:
  • CCCFPD has lost many positions over the last few years due to attrition. Hiring has not kept pace , leaving CCCFPD approximately 40 positions below its minimum staffing level. To keep stations open they need to be fully staffed to provide the same level of fire protection anywhere you may live. This results in firefighters getting hired back on overtime (an expensive proposition) to meet minimum staffing requirements.
  • Hiring would reduce the amount of money spent on overtime.

Wouldn't it make more sense to reduce the service of a not-so-busy station?

While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in stations closures, we can offer you these insights:
Your fire service is already stretched very thin. Any reduction to service due to closing stations or de-staffing units increases the risk to us all.

  • Closing a slower station could seriously jeopardize safety depending on where next closest unit is coming from (and hopefully that unit is not assigned to another emergency).
  • Closing a slower station is something you may be less willing to do if it's the closest station to your own house.
  • Closing any station is a gamble. The odds would probably be better closing a slow station versus a busy station. The question then becomes, "how much do I have at stake and what are you willing to risk?"

Why does the Fire district want to raise my taxes to pay for what I'm already paying for?

While your Contra Costa Firefighters have NO SAY in whether the Board of Supervisors pursues a parcel tax, we can offer the following insights:
You are paying your taxes and you deserve the best services available. It is important to understand that property taxes are the primary source of funding revenue for fire districts in this county. In this economy, though, there has been a sharp decline in revenues from property taxes. This is due to several factors: property values have been reassessed at a lower rates; redevelopment agencies are ever expanding their influence and redirecting those property tax dollars for other projects; there are fewer sources of property taxes. All of these factors are doing their part in reducing revenue for all county services, including fire services. Your fire department and your firefighters have found many ways to save money without reducing services. These strategies have been implemented and include:

  • Frozen capital improvements.
  • Frozen equipment purchasing.
  • Frozen hiring (though a process has been started to fill positions that will be lost this year - See Why is CCCFPD saying both that they need to close stations and that they need to hire firefighters?).
  • Changed schedule that results in less overtime.
  • Reduced supplies budget.
  • Reduced utilities usage.
  • Layoffs at the administrative level.
  • Layoffs in public education and fire prevention.
  • Layoffs of student workers.
  • Elimination of training staff positions.
  • Furloughs for 40-hr staff.
  • Pushed back salaries for line firefighters.
  • The Fire District can not fix the fact that less revenue is coming in. At this point, further cuts mean cuts in services. As of January, 2011, Fire Station 1 in Walnut Creek has one less crew on duty each day, halving the ability of that station to serve downtown Walnut Creek and the surrounding areas. The fire district is trying to maintain the same level of service to you with less money. It isn't working. Reserve funds are being spent to maintain your fire services, but the reserves will run out. It is unclear right now whether the Board of Supervisors will pursue a parcel tax. They are waiting to hear back on a field poll to see if the community would support an increased fee to maintain services. The bottom line is that a secure and stable funding source needs to be found.

Didn't Measure Q in Concord promise to preserve fire services?

Sadly, no. Fire services in Concord are provided by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. Measure Q was a City tax for City services:
Measure Q. Transactions and Use Tax -- City of Concord
Pass: 17490 / 53.99% Yes votes ...... 14903 / 46.01% No votes

To provide funding that cannot be taken by the State and help protect/maintain Concord's city services, including 911 emergency response times, police officers, gang prevention, crime investigation, neighborhood police patrols, city streets/pothole repair, senior services and nutrition programs, youth/teen programs, and other general city services shall the City of Concord enact a half-cent sales tax for 5 years, with citizens oversight, mandatory financial audits, reports to the community, and all funds staying local?

How many firefighters work at a fire station?

In Contra Costa County each fire company (engine or ladder truck) only carries three firefighters (the National Fire Protection Association's national staffing standard is a minimum of four, and in certain cases, five or more per engine or ladder truck). Even if there are 2 or 3 fire engines at a station it is important to note that all of that equipment is not fully staffed. Most stations only have one company (3 firefighters) that normally staffs either an engine or ladder truck. There are a total of 9 firefighters that work at most stations but only 3 are on duty at any given time. The other fire vehicles you see in the engine bay may be specialty apparatus for wildland fires, technical rescue or reserve apparatus. For more on how stations are staffed, please see How are fire stations and fire engines staffed? Why?.

How many firefighters work at a fire station?

In Contra Costa County each fire company (engine or ladder truck) only carries three firefighters (the National Fire Protection Association's national staffing standard is a minimum of four, and in certain cases, five or more per engine or ladder truck). Even if there are 2 or 3 fire engines at a station it is important to note that all of that equipment is not fully staffed. Most stations only have one company (3 firefighters) that normally staffs either an engine or ladder truck. There are a total of 9 firefighters that work at most stations but only 3 are on duty at any given time. The other fire vehicles you see in the engine bay may be specialty apparatus for wildland fires, technical rescue or reserve apparatus. For more on how stations are staffed, please see How are fire stations and fire engines staffed?
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