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Open Letter to Alameda City Council on Firefighter Cutbacks

Open letter to the council:

In January I listened as some of you asked our city manager if there wasn’t some other way to stay within the budget without compromising the safety of Alameda citizens.

Back then, the fire chief confidently predicted that the cuts would not have an adverse effect more than about 15 times in a year. So far, there have been two major fires in these past 5 months and both of them were severely impacted by limited staffing. And each time he went on record saying the cutbacks were not a factor in the fire.

The house on Inverness reignited during the early morning hours because the fire department’s administrative staff refused to pay overtime to keep a fire watch.

Last month the chief laid off two firefighters, while again expressing his confidence that it would have no impact on the department’s ability to fight fires.

Now, he is dismayed to discover how much overtime is costing to keep staffing levels at the agreed on 24 men per shift. His solution??? not to hire back the two people he laid off; but to cut the staffing level to 21 personnel per shift. That is six personnel fewer than the absolute minimum recommended in the independent study commissioned by the city.

If they are still manning three ambulances, that means that of those 21 persons, only 15 will be available to fight fires. And if all the ambulances are transporting patients off-island, it also means that the paramedic staff on the trucks and engines will be directed to medical emergencies first. Heaven help us all if there is another conflagration like the one on Inverness.

Clearly, with increasingly fewer firefighters battling each fire, the danger to each of them escalates exponentially. It occurs to me that any chief who is this unconcerned about the safety of his firefighters is hardly the man to be trusted with the safety of the citizens of Alameda.

Since that meeting in January, the city manager who started this whole mess has left her position, and instead of the $180,000/year she was paid, her replacement was hired for a quarter of a million dollars.

What happened to the council’s intent to save money? And why are you saving money by taking from the budgets of essential services and spending it on salary increases for management and legal services.

The city might not really need four lawyers now, but after a few fires where lives are lost due to delayed response time or inadequate resources to fight them effectively, you might need to hire even more of them.

Of course, they cost much more than a firefighter, so keeping the firefighters and limiting the legal staff of our city would probably be a better use of funds

I can only hope that the citizens of Alameda have more sense in this matter than the council, the city manager, and the fire chief have demonstrated.

– Joan DeWindt

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