Calif. fire district ceases operations after 105 years of service

The area previously covered by the Cordelia Fire Protection District will now be served by the Fairfield Fire Department


Nick Sestanovich
The Reporter, Vacaville, Calif.

Following years of financial struggles and decreased staff, the Cordelia Fire Protection District (CFPD) officially ceased operations Wednesday after 105 years of providing service to unincorporated Fairfield.

The area covered by the district will now be served by the Fairfield Fire Department.

Fairfield Fire Chief Matt Luckenbach said Cordelia was one of a few fire protection districts remaining in Solano County, the others being the Montezuma, Suisun, and Vacaville fire protection districts. All, he said, have faced financial difficulties over the years.

"It's become very expensive to run a fire department the right way, whether it's staffing, training, the equipment, the facilities," he said. "All the different things it takes to adequately run a fire department are very expensive, and the revenues that were coming in via taxes and special assessments simply weren't enough to run Cordelia adequately."

Luckenbach also said CFPD was not a particularly busy department, often running less than two calls per day.

"It just wasn't cost-effective to have staffing, a chief, engines, stuff like that," he said.

Discussions for Fairfield Fire Department to take over CFPD have been in the works for years.

In a 2021 report, the Solano County Grand Jury opined that county fire departments were not adequately funded and singled out CFPD in particular as having outdated equipment, including a firetruck that was 26 years old.

"The story for the Cordelia FPD threatens to be a blueprint for other small fire districts in the area, which are only slightly better off financially," the report's authors wrote.

By the fall of 2022, the department had seen a 50% reduction in staff as a result of increased fire service hiring throughout the state.

"They were going out of business, if you will, either way," Luckenbach said. "Whether or not we came in and helped out or not, they weren't able to exist anymore. This is happening all over the United States, quite frankly, but especially in California where salaries are higher out here and everything is more expensive out here with vehicles and all of the different things we have to pay for."

In October, the Fairfield City Council approved a short-term agreement that would allow the Fairfield Fire Department to cover emergency calls within the area covered by the CFPD. The agreement was formalized by the CFPD Board of Directors at its December meeting.

The agreement means FFFD will respond to all fire, medical and response services within the area previously covered by the CFPD. That includes areas such as Green Valley, Rockville Road, Lower Suisun Valley, Cordelia, and the unincorporated areas along Interstates 80 and 680 between Fairfield and Benicia as well as Fairfield and Vallejo.

One of the largest areas the Fairfield Fire Department will be taking over is the Sky Valley Open Space along Lake Herman Road, leading into Benicia, as well as the marshlands along 680. Given how sparsely populated the area is, Luckenbach said the department does not get a lot of requests for service, but the ones it does receive are very significant.

"We get a lot of bad vehicle accidents," he said. "We get some water rescue calls, we get some big vegetation fires, and just based on the travel times, fires will oftentimes end up being bigger because they've had more time to burn."

One thing that has allowed the department to move forward with assuming control of the CFPD coverage area is the procurement of Engine 36, which is temporarily housed at Station 35 on Lopes Road until Station 36 opens next to the Nova Apartments on Business Center Drive next year.

"When that station opens up, we'll have essentially two units out there," Luckenbach said. "That provided us with enough redundancy to where we felt comfortable taking on additional call volume."

The CFPD was established in 1918 and has served as the starting point for many area firefighters through its residential program. Vacaville Fire Capt. Matt Moreno is among those, having served in the CFPD from 2002 to 2008.

"What it did was give you every bit of experience you would ever need to advance to a career department," he said. "Having that 24-hour work schedule and really being a part of that team, just a bunch of close-knit, young, hungry, motivated guys and gals...we motivated each other, we were testing for different departments and helping each other out and just gaining a lot of skill and training from Cordelia to be able to turn it into a career department one day. I would never be where I'm at today without Cordelia."

Moreno said the camaraderie among Cordelia firefighters was strong to the point where its alumni would attend each other's badge-pinning ceremonies when they were promoted in other departments. Among those who got their start in Cordelia were Vallejo Fire Chief Kyle Long, Contra Costa County Fire Chief Lewis Broschard, and Contra Costa deputy fire chief and former Dixon Fire Chief Aaron McCallister.

"It was a breeding ground for success," Moreno said.

Moreno said the area received a diverse volume of calls, and he has memories of responding to incidents along Highway 12 before there was a center divider and holding Christmas parties at the station every year. However, he said the strongest memories were the overall bonds formed.

"There's something about the environment that was unique, that was just a lot of positivity and everybody was just there having fun and doing a really good service to that community," he said.

Moreno called the end of the CFPD "a sad day."

With enough time to prepare, Luckenbach said the majority of CFPD staff have found opportunities elsewhere. The one remaining firefighter, Lt. EMT Kenny Barlow, completed his final shift at 4 p.m., after which the official transition took place.

Luckenbach said the department will initially only handle emergency calls in the area as part of the short-term agreement, which runs through June. As part of a long-term agreement, Luckenbach hopes to be able to assume all of CFPD's functions, including fire prevention, inspections, and vegetation management.

"That agreement, we hope to have completed by June," he said. "At that point, there's no details on that yet, but we'll essentially be collecting some portion of their revenue to reimburse us for that, and they'll keep a small amount of revenue in their reserves for day-to-day costs."

Luckenbach hopes the change will demonstrate that other models of fire departments can exist and that consolidation can allow for more efficient use of resources.

"I'm excited to prove that this can work," he said.

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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