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Unique “Battalion 7” Partnership Ensures West County Residents Receive State-of-the-Art Fire, Rescue

By Gaby Mascoll, Con Fire PIO Intern

It’s a simple fact of modern life we’ve come to know and expect, when disaster strikes -- be it a fire, a medical emergency, an auto accident, water rescue, chemical spill, or something else that threatens life and property -- we dial 911 and first responders -- firefighters, law enforcement, or both -- show up to lend near-immediate assistance.

Depending on the type of incident reported, the emergency response can vary considerably. For example, when it comes to fire responses, a medical emergency might entail both a paramedic-staffed fire engine and ambulance for a life-threatening situation, or simply an ambulance for a less critical event. An unconfirmed fire alarm might elicit a single fire engine response, but a confirmed house fire would receive a minimum of four fire engines, a firetruck and associated support personnel, or more -- what’s referred to as a first-alarm assignment.

In West Contra Costa, residents of the communities of El Sobrante, Pinole, Rodeo-Hercules, and San Pablo receive fire and emergency medical services from each of their own city fire jurisdictions. This includes Contra Costa County Fire Protection District’s (Con Fire) Fire Station 69, in El Sobrante, and Fire Station 70, in San Pablo; Pinole Fire Department’s Station 73; and Rodeo-Hercules Fire Protection District’s Fire Station 75 in Rodeo and Fire Station 76 in Hercules.

However, owing to the sizes of each of these organizations and commonly accepted industry standards for modern firefighting responses, not one of these communities has the resources alone to provide a complete response to even a first-alarm house fire in any of their communities!

That’s where the unique partnership called Battalion 7 comes in, filling the resource gaps that would otherwise exist, allowing everyone in these communities to rest assured they are protected should disaster strike.

Battalion 7 consists of the crews, fire apparatus and equipment in each of these communities along with a battalion chief, who, on any given shift, coordinates and leads the efforts of all of the organizations’ firefighters. Working, training and responding together, as part of the partnership, pooling their resources, they can effectively handle any number of emergency incidents that alone, each individual district or department would be hard pressed to do.

Aid from adjoining fire jurisdictions could, and often does, supplement each of these jurisdiction’s firefighting resources, but with Battalion 7, our communities are guaranteed a coordinated response made up of firefighters and paramedics who know each other and function seamlessly as one team because they plan, outfit and train to do so every day of the year.

This unique firefighting model exists to assure residents that firefighters and paramedics are on scene of any accident or service needed in these West Contra Costa communities when and where they are needed. Even if that city’s fire resources are on another call, common dispatch procedures of the Contra Costa Regional Fire Communications Center (911) will send another neighboring Battalion 7 response that knows that community and its unique needs.

Each of the communities adopted the Battalion 7 concept in September 2000 as a mutual aid agreement to improve responses at any incident occurring in West County.

“2020 marks twenty years of this operation that began as a concept and has provided residents with the best service possible with resources available,” said Jim Parrott, retired Pinole Fire Chief and an original Battalion 7 battalion chief. “The original agreement was built on strong relationships, relationships that have endured through the decades of this unique agreement to serve the needs of the agencies’ residents.”

One of Battalion 7’s many strengths is its ability to pool training resources, affording first responders a wider variety of training than each jurisdiction might otherwise be able to provide. This is especially important because West County, with its numerous industrial facilities, waterways, major transportation arteries and densely populated wildland-urban interface areas where residents live in hilly, heavily vegetated areas, offers a wide variety of potential emergencies.

Battalion 7’s training therefore mimics this near endless set of emergency possibilities with each organization working together as if facing these real-life scenarios. Training often includes responses to industrial accidents; vehicle accidents with entrapments and fires; rope rescues; and, of course, structure fires. Because of this training, the member fire jurisdictions are able to anticipate needs of any incident, coordinating seamlessly on any call and benefiting everyone in West County.

“The sharing of information, training together, incident critiques, and the general enthusiasm of the crews wanting to do a good job are infectious,” said Charles Thomas, Con Fire’s Battalion 7 battalion chief. “The impact of this partnership is evident in the services our residents receive.”

And, thanks to the vision of firefighter leaders some 20 years ago, and the continued commitments of today’s firefighters, the Battalion 7 partnership endures, assuring residents of the communities of El Sobrante, Pinole, Rodeo-Hercules, and San Pablo the very best fire and emergency medical services their individual organizations collective efforts can provide.

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