In the spic and span kitchen of Vallejo fire station 27, the sweet smell of flavored coffee hangs in the air. It's 8 a.m. and acting Captain Thomas Brew sits down at the large table after two days on duty. I ask if it was a busy night.
"Very busy, both nights. Yeah," said Brew, laughing. He says they're all like that these days.
Over the last three years, as the city of Vallejo has worked through a legal bankruptcy, the fire department has shrunk almost in half, from 28 on-duty firefighters to just 15. They've closed three stations - including one in the Glen Cove neighborhood, where Brew says there was a three alarm house fire last week.
"I was on that fire," said Brew. "It had one house going but the engine company that was closest there was closed so another company had to come from farther away and it gave the fire time to catch a second house on fire."
Brew says that kind of damage is happening more and more. In cash-strapped Vallejo they are increasingly relying on a mutual aid agreement with neighboring cities.
"One day we asked for mutual aid from surrounding areas and they flat out said 'We can't do it,' said Brew. "That was the first time. That caught me a little off guard because that had never happened before."
According to Vallejo fire department spokesman William Tweedy, every municipality has less funding.
"Their people in their city say 'Why are we providing services in their city if we're not being reimbursed for it?' So things are going to start raising their ugly head because they can't afford it either," said Tweedy.
Last month, the city of San Jose laid off 49 of its firefighters and closed one of its stations, number 33. Now it has a large sign out front that reads: "In case of emergency, call 911. Firefighters not available at this station."
"There are a lot of neighbors in this community," said San Jose Fire Captain Chuck Rangel. "We have had cases here when people in distress go straight to the station and start knocking on the door."
Rangel says nothing can replace San Jose's firefighters, but in the meantime the city is using a computer system to try to allocate resources as best they can.
Stewart Gary consults to local governments who need to restructure their fire departments. The former Livermore Fire Chief says fire department cuts and brown outs -- taking engines out of service -- are happening up and down the state.
"The city of Sacramento has browned out some fire crews, [and the] city of Stockton recently browned out, closed, one of their ladder companies," said Gary.
That's also true for San Diego, Livermore, Burlingame, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. In the last case, the department is funded solely by property taxes which took a big hit in the real estate crash.
In other places Gary says city managers facing shortfalls have told him the same thing:
"If I closed every library, if I stopped mowing the grass at every park, I still can't close the deficit, because police and fire are in most cases 35-45 percent of a city's expenses and they have to get to the public safety costs."
One of the concerns in California is what would happen when mutual aid is needed for a large event like a wildfire.
Kim Zagaris, chief of the California Emergency Management Agency, which moves resources to major disasters, says that in the past in the North Coast District he could depend on getting 175 local government engines to a fire.
"But during last year's fires the most we were able to get was 125 engines," said Zagaris.
Zagaris says some fire departments may have equipment and want to go, but strapped municipalities are worried about delays in reimbursement from the state.
"I can tell you where I sit it's not a good feeling to be where we're at," said Zagaris.
Zagaris says he'll only know how many agencies are truly available after he sees who shows up to the next emergency.