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Alameda Firefighters’ Association President Expresses Disapproval with The City Council

By Erica Madison

Imagine that a fire has started at a residence on Beach Road; fortunately the nearest fire station is only a ten minute ride a way, unfortunately the station is closed.

Fortunately this didn’t happen on Aug. 8, 2009. A fire started at a residence on Beach Road, but with the help of three engines and two trucks, the fire was immediately and successfully subdued.

According to a press release on www.SaveAlamedaFireHouses.com, the success was largely due to the rapid deployment of truck one. Truck one came from station one on Encinal Ave., which is roughly less than a 10 minute ride to Beach Road.

Unfortunately, the Fire Truck at Station One could close, due to a Brown Out proposal initiated by the City Manager Anne Marie Gallant and Fire Chief Dave Kapler. The program closes apparatus down whenever a station has less than a staffing of 24 fire fighting personnel. The next closest fire truck would come from Station Two on Pacific Ave. near Webster St.

“It (under staffing) could be due to jury duty, on the job injury leave, Comp time, military leave, etc.” said firefighter’s association president Domenick Weaver.

According to www.SaveAlamedaFireHouses.com, Station Five has been closed since April 1, 2009.

The Brown Out program has been in operation since January 26, 2009.  But the program was modified over time, when people realized the initial plan was not working.

“It (Brown Outs) led to many increased response times and potential for negative outcomes on both fire and medical responses. It required moving firefighters from one station to another and led to more units out of service at shift change. It was inconsistent from day to day and made dispatch of resources difficult.” Said Weaver.

Since January 2009, over two hundred emergency calls were delayed, due to the Brown Out program, according to Alameda firefighters.

In an effort to end the Brown Out program the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Minimum Protection initiative was presented to City Council August 3, 2009. The initiative asks for a mandatory minimum fire personnel staffing of 27.

However, this request directly contradicts the International City and Council Management Association report, stating the mandatory minimum should be 21.

“The ICMA report is a cooked report. They have hidden all drafts that went back and forth prior to release of the final document.” Said Weaver.

In the same city council meeting, Mr. Weaver also said, Agenda 4b (the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Minimum Protection initiative) is misleading the voters, by making it seem as if the initiative is asking for additional firefighting personnel. However, they are only asking that the initial three firefighting personnel positions be reinstated.

It should also be noted what is missing from Agenda 4b, is the firefighters’ own report commissioned by Local 689.

“Local 689 commissioned a detailed staffing and operational analysis from the International Association of Firefighters in July of 2008 and they actually recommend 34 firefighters on duty a day.” said Weaver.

The main concern on hiring three more fire personnel stems not from safety but from the lack of financing. It has been estimated that the addition of three more fire personnel per week will cost $ 4 million dollars annually.

But Mr. Weaver said, the firefighters have offered numerous ways to cut back on cost, including a pledge by firefighters to not take a pay increase.

“We have suggested an effective departmental reorganization that would have saved about $650,000 and that would have maintained staffing of all Engines, Trucks and Ambulances. We have offered concessions to our Comp Time usage that could have saved another $600,000-$900,000.” said Weaver.

Despite this, the City Council has delayed putting the ballot up for a vote until November 2011.

“I am incredibly disappointed,” Weaver told Action Alameda News, “in the council’s action to delay the voice and vote of the people to weigh in on their levels of Fire and Emergency service until 2011. All five of them ran their campaigns on the importance of public safety and we have vigilantly kept them informed on operational issues/problems, and fiscal responsibility.”

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