By Liz Williams. Liz Williams is an Alameda resident. You can read more about the fallout from the FISC fire at this website.
After several weeks of playing cat and mouse with the city attorney and the fire marshal, I received a copy of the Alameda Fire Department’s policies last week. I requested them so I could read the procedures for three and four-alarm fires like the FISC fire on March 29, as well as the department’s hazardous materials policies.
At just 11 double-sided pages, it didn’t take long to find out what the problem was with the FISC fire: There is no policy for a three or four-alarm fire. None. Which says something truly frightening to me: The AFD has not done any thinking or planning about the kinds of fires that can — and did — erupt on the former Naval Air Station site. Talk about a failure of imagination, leading to a lack of planning, leading to the 19-hour toxic bath we received on March 29. And Alameda Landing and Alameda Point are full of toxics — five Superfund clean-up sites on the FISC property alone — just waiting to catch fire and bathe us in foul fumes and debris again. And, when they do, the AFD won’t do any better. They don’t know how. The city and the fire department have not taken this threat seriously, have not planned, have not trained. They are unprepared, putting themselves and all of us at risk.
The hazardous materials policy shows a similar lack of thought: Although it mentions a release of fuel, it does not mention burning fuel, like the fuel that burned and released high levels of benzene and other fuel-based toxins during the FISC fire. It’s as though this had never occurred to them. The burning of petroleum products — which are, you know, designed to burn — hadn’t occurred to the fire department.
See, here’s what’s bothering me. I’ve read the Navy’s remediation report. In addition to being a fabulous cure for insomnia, it [the former Navy-run land] is chock full of petroleum products. Really — the Naval Air Station is lousy with petroleum products, mostly fuel. (That’s your quickest route to becoming a superfund clean-up site, should you be interested: Get yourself big vats of fuel.) So, you’d think — I’d think — that the AFD would be very interested in imagining the possibility of all those petroleum products — all that fuel — burning. And, after the imagining, there would be a great deal of planning. There’s a name for this: Disaster Preparedness. For an island, you’d think — OK, I’d think — this would be, uh, you know, really important. Especially an island with a huge, unsecured toxic waste zone with all that fuel, ready to burn. For the $500,000 we pay them each year, I expect much, much more from our fire chief and fire marshal.
The city recently published the contract for the FISC site cleanup, too: $1.6 million for a carefully controlled, expert cleanup of the asbestos and lead-contaminated debris from the fire. This is the very same debris that the city suggested we pick up with a wet paper towel. Is this the best we can do? Really?