By Steve Large

OAKLEY (CBS13) – The ax is falling on a regional fire department just when firefighters are needed most.

The decision was made Monday night in east Contra Costa County to slash staff and close fire stations.

It amounts to a fire district sounding its own alarm.

A last-ditch tax effort to fill an $8 million shortfall failed to win voter approval.

“We don’t have the money for that. That’s the reality,” said Walter MacVittie, who campaigned against Measure S. “They thought they could get the money from the people. The people said no.”

East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District is in such bad financial shape, it’s planning to close three of its six stations and lay off 21 of its 48 firefighters.

Response time will be impacted.

“Right now they’re around 6:30, and it’ll probably go up to 12, 15, 20 (minutes),” fire district union spokesman Vince Wells said.

The fire district covers a massive 250 square miles, including 110 miles of Delta waterways, from Mt. Diablo east nearly to Interstate 5.

Steve Nicholas lives near one of the district’s stations that is already closed.

“And the response time is slow as it is so it’s going to be even longer,” he said.

And the announcement of this next round of closures comes on a near 100-degree day.

“Yeah this is summer time, this is fire season, so yeah, it couldn’t be worse timing,” Nicholas said.

It’s a fire district that’s facing its own massive collapse, with no emergency response to save the day.

Layoff notices are scheduled to go out June 15. The district will close stations in Brentwood, Knightsen and Bethel Island on July 1.

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