Blogging Bayport Alameda

June 18, 2009

Internal conflict

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Election, Public Resources — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 6:23 am

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing about the fire on Bay Farm because it’s such a delicate subject and when that is combined with the whole initiative the Firefighters want to place on the ballot even though our budget is in a precarious state, I wanted to wait for a few more details.    And now given that there was a second fire in Alameda in less than a week — I always had the feeling that structure fires were pretty few and far between — the Fire Department issues has jumped up in prominence.

At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Fire Chief gave a run down of what all went down.  According to the Fire Chief for a normal response, this is what type of equipment and staff would be dispatched:

  • Three Engines
  • Two Trucks
  • One Ambulance
  • One Battalion Chief
  • 18 staff on site

The response that night:

  • Four Engines (because one truck was busy)
  • Two trucks (the busy truck became available)
  • AMR dispatched (because ambulance was busy)
  • One Battalion Chief
  • 21 staff on site

Additionally, a team (3 engines, truck and battalion chief) arrived from Oakland because a second alarm was called which brought an additional 17 people to the fire. According to Chief Kapler the team was called to cover the fire stations and not respond to the fire, but they came to the fire anyway and started working. They were eventually redirected to the stations but, in the words of Chief Kapler,

…For a while the Incident Commander had more people than he knew what to do with, they were in the way and he was anxious to get them off the scene and into the stations where he needed them.

Anyway, so the first engine came from the Bay Farm station and was dispatched at 6:28 a.m. and arrived on scene at 6:32 a.m.   The Second engine arrived on scene at 6:35 a.m. from Station 1 which is on the main island.   Look, I don’t know much about response times, but to me, 4 minutes and 6 minutes seems incredibly reasonable for dispatch to a fire.  

But according to some news reports, some firefighters are contending that because of the budget cuts and brown outs there was a delay in the response time:

…[F]irefighter Sam Yussim said it took much longer for additional resources to arrive.

“Another engine arriving sooner would have allowed the firefighters on scene to make an initial attack sooner than they were able to, which would have reduced the spread of the fire and exponential growth,” Yussim explained.

And he said that would have prevented two fire captains from being injured.

A 20+ year veteran of the department suffered second degree burns to his back and abdomen, while a 15-year veteran suffered burns to his hands.

Yussim and union officials said the injuries were a direct result of recent cuts… 

Just a note, that news release said that a truck from Fire Station 2 was dispatched first, but I think that it would have had to have been Station 4 (Bay Farm) since Station 2 is located on the West End.  Anyway, I’m not quite sure how the second engine was delayed at all since — even without cuts — the second engine would have had to have come from Station 1 (on Encinal near Park) which is the next closest station.   Yes, two minutes is a long time during a fire, but on the other hand is it a reasonable length of time, I believe it is. 

One thing that the Fire Chief mentioned is that the fire had clearly been going on for a while since the house was unoccupied and it had to burn through the house hot enough to have been visible to the outside which is when neighbors noticed the flames.   So to blame an extra two minute drive time as spreading the fire expotentially and then blaming the two injuries on those additional two minutes in a bit hyperbolic.  

In fact, the politics have gotten so heated (heh) that some firefighters are calling for the resignation of Chief Kapler:

Amazingly enough one of the reasons given was because the Chief is “consumed with budget issues” and not worrying about the “real threats to the  health and safety of the community and firefighters.”   But, isn’t that why we have a Fire Chief though?   To worry about the budget and how that balances out for a community?   It’s not “at any cost,” it’s how much can the City afford.  It sounded like the Firefighters association was more upset because they feel as though the Chief is not fighting hard enough for their interests.   But the Fire Chief should be doing what is in the best interest of the City as a whole and not just the department he represents.

As a side note, an interesting part of these public comments is that the commenter strongly disagreed with the Chief saying that an AMR ambulance replaced the normal Fire Department ambulance since the Fire Department ambulance is staffed with actual firefighters as opposed to paramedics.   The Fire Department ambulance was unavailable because they were transporting someone somewhere or on another call.   But this begs the question of whether our firefighter resources are best used for paramedic purposes?



  1. I would love to know the answers to the following questions:

    How many firefighters retired within 45 days of receiving a promotion?

    How many firefighters went on disability leave in the last year for injuries not occuring in the direct line of duty (such as during pick-up basketball games during work hours)?

    If the firefighters aren’t willing to cut staffing, what are they willing to do to reduce their budget?

    Comment by notadave — June 18, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  2. re#1 – all very good questions. First two should be directed to Human Resources as a public records request. Last question should go to Dominick Weaver as the Union Pres.

    Comment by Elector — June 18, 2009 @ 10:38 am

  3. The firefighters’ union is running an aggressive pr attack—fighting for firefighter jobs, firefighter pay and firefighter benefits. That’s their job.

    But it’s the city council and city administrators’ job to fight for the city as a whole, and the systems and salaries and employees that it can sustain. Public safety costs make up 70 percent of the city’s budget. The cost of each firefighter is up near $200,000 a year when you factor in their lifetime benefits, the 30 percent above salary that goes to pension each year, and base salaries that are mostly over $100,000 a year.

    A lot has to change.

    Subcontracting out ambulance services to a lower-cost third party (as most Bay Area cities and towns do) is one obvious piece of the solution. Transport would cost less and would keep Alameda firefighters on-island.

    From the IAFF’s press release about the June 14 fire:

    “At approximately 6:28pm on Sunday 14 JUNE 2009, City of Alameda Firefighters were called to a report of a structure fire at 110 Inverness Way, on Bay Farm Island. At the time of the call, all three of the ALS Ambulances staffed with two firefighters on each of them were busy transporting patients to off island hospitals from unrelated EMS calls. At the time of the initial response there were only four remaining units in service in Alameda with three firefighters on each of them.”

    Comment by Eve — June 18, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  4. The AFD website is very out of date. What equipment does the AFD currently operate?

    Speaking of out of date, the APD’s site hasn’t been updated in a very long time.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — June 18, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  5. This is a very difficult situation because it is hard for any of us lay people to second guess the fire fighters procedure with much real authority. That does not mean we have to trust everything AFD says as 100 accurate.

    If staffing is reduced from 27 to 24, I don’t quite understand how that might directly correlate to the need for 17 Oakland fire fighters unless it is as part of standard Bayfarm response they would come here anyway, which is my understanding.

    Then there is the obvious question, if these staffing levels are so critical, how exactly does Oakland deal with the sudden short fall in staffing when 17 people rush to Alameda?

    I don’t think the AFD is doing much to facilitate the clearest possible understanding of the details by the general public. I do have the strong impression they want to use every opportunity such as an actual house fire WITH INJURIES to instill a sense of anxiety among residents in order to bolster their position.

    No matter what one thinks about staffing numbers and safety, the ballot initiative is a completely improper method for regulating staffing and should be voted down for that reason without any other consideration.

    Comment by M.I. — June 18, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  6. Maybe Oakland and Alameda Fire should merge? If we are so reliant on Oakland for even a single house fire, then what is the sense of having our own department? Is it just about municipal pride? If we don’t have the funds to continue local fire service, then what are our options? I recall a time when some communities had volunteer fire departments. Perhaps that won’t work in 21st Century Alameda, but what we have now also does not seem to be working.

    A similar question about Alameda Hospital District. If any serious medical problem means a trip into Oakland, then why do we have a local hospital? Is this a municipal pride issue or are their solid medical reasons to have a hospital here?

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — June 18, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  7. NayTiff From my own personal view I have never been treated at or needed Alameda hospital. I was transported one time by ambulance directly to Kaiser in Oakland from the West End. It was fast and I was well taken care of.

    Mark I agree with your last paragraph in post #5 completely. I’m concerned that the Fire Fighters may try to use fear as a way to get people to vote in favor of their initiative. Just as the Hospital did to get their initiative passed. It seemed to be more about their own needs than the tax payers needs in both cases. Hopefully we as tax payers are learning that if you don’t have the money you aren’t able to have the service.

    Comment by John Piziali — June 18, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

  8. We have a hospital for our safety and service even tho it is not a ‘world class’ facility. My 2nd son was born there and we were impressed that the service was so good. As my boys grew older they have both needed stitches, no broken bones yet, and both times we were disappointed the service was slow – we regretted not trying elsewhere. I also understand that in the reality of triage, stitching non-life threatening wounds is easily trumped by real emergencies. For heart attacks and strokes time is extremely crucial, so the on-island critical emergency is still of great value to many. We also want some protection in case of earthquake.
    The question remains – what and how much do we want to pay for.

    As for being protected by Oakland FD – No thanks. Oakland has greater budget problems than Alameda. I would bet such a situation would leave Alameda with much worse service than a reduced AFD crewing. – I’ll throw out the question of volunteer firefighters – what ever happened to them? We obviously have wonderful volunteering people on our island who want to volunteer. What is the latest count on CERT trained citizens? How many CERT teams are there? We are pretty organized thanks to the involvement of so many organizers and volunteers, and the AFD staff who do all the CERT training. Additional training classes could provide some CERTs to do some of the logistical FD duties like crowd control – putting up the caution tape barriers to provide plenty of room for AFD to work. Other Certies could be hauling and laying out hose letting the AFD to make or check connections and charge the lines. When I was a kid it seems like most of the fire fighting itself was done by volunteers too.

    Maybe this is yet another area where the “economic benefits of high density” just fails to meet expected promises.

    Comment by Dave Kirwin — June 18, 2009 @ 10:09 pm

  9. “Maybe this is yet another area where the “economic benefits of high density” just fails to meet expected promises.”

    Services are easier to provide in high density areas–you can spread the cost of having a firehouse within a certain number of minutes’ drive over more people. Fast response times are a lot more expensive in low-density areas.

    The volunteering idea is interesting. I’m guessing that in small towns in the old days, people worked more locally and were available at any time. A lot of Alamedans work elsewhere so wouldn’t be around to answer the call. But I’m not sure. Certain things could probably be done by volunteers and it’s worth investigating.

    And as for the hospital, I once went there to get some stitches after a fall. The nurse was busy and gave me tweezers and some gauze and had me clean the grit out of the wound myself before the doctor did the sewing.

    Comment by BC — June 19, 2009 @ 8:25 am

  10. Part of my point is that fire itself is a lot less dangerous in low density areas. High density = high risk, and the life and safety risks grow exponentially as vertical height of structures increase.

    I would have a hard time cleaning the grit and gravel out of a back or shoulder wound, but if I had easy access to my wound, especially with my right hand with a clear view, I prefer to clean my own wound – something about being prepared for and in control the associated pain…

    Comment by David Kirwin — June 19, 2009 @ 6:40 pm

  11. Police and firefighters have a dangerous job, and they know that it will be dangerous when they take the oath of office. Injuries do occur from time to time. That is the nature of the beast. Training is done to mitigate injuries but they still happen.
    Can anyone confirm that one of the injured fire fighters burned his hand when he grabbed a wrought iron railing that had been cooking in the fire for a long time? This seems like an injury that could have been prevented with proper training…..firefighters must be able to identify what materials get really hot(even if they are not actually on fire) during a fire. If they had known that metal gets hot in a fire, this injury could have been prevented….

    Comment by Moe Reese Hart — June 20, 2009 @ 7:53 am

  12. Hi Moe: Here is the Fire Chief’s description of that particular injury that you have described, starts at around 4:55 into the video:

    Comment by Lauren Do — June 20, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  13. Yeah he grabbed the Hot Rod Iron Hand Rail when he was falling through the staircase from the second floor. Maybe next time someone can try to train him not to reach out to break a fall.

    Comment by Will Mcnabb — June 20, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  14. Great idea Moe! There’s so many of them floating around this blog. They should train firefighters not to fall through stairs either. Sounds like you guys have all the experience in this field. You should quit your day job and be a Fire Chief.

    Comment by jmasterson — June 20, 2009 @ 11:54 am

  15. I just don’t understand why someone would be fighting a fully involved fire from the second floor….When Chief Kaplen is run out of town, maybe I will apply

    Comment by moe reese Harte — June 20, 2009 @ 11:58 am

  16. I started comment 5 by pointing out the dilemma of lay people attempting to second guess professionals, especially through hearsay.

    I ran into the Chief in the post office and alerted him to the coverage in the Sun emphasizing the union’s alleged displeasure with the chief, of which he was not aware, the coverage that is. I then asked about the stair failure because I was wondering about the training for assessing when stairs and the like are safe to use. I did not get an answer to that exact detail but Chief Kapler was clear that the burns were not related to the stair failure which he said did not result in any injury.

    In the tape Lauren posted (#12) the Chief states that the fire fighter with the large burn received it in a fall where his jacket was pushed up. There was no mention of the hand burn being from a similar fall, particularly related to the second story stairs failing as noted in #13.

    Will McNabb #13, the scenario you describe is certainly plausible, however in this case it appears not to have occurred.

    Comment by M.I. — June 22, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  17. An old timer told me of being in a his uncle’s blacksmith shop where he was burned by touching something. His uncle said “Son, around here the only thing you touch without gloves is your pay check”. The fire fighter was wearing gloves of course, but the related point is about being aware of one’s work environment and in the case of fire fighting the negative consequences of oversight can expand exponentially.

    Comment by M.I. — June 22, 2009 @ 3:07 pm

  18. I’m confused… seems that AFD is pointing to staffing shortages that in turn cause injury… the accounts that I am reading in this blog there were at least 38 firefighters on scene at one point….being a non fire fighter I do not know if this is normal for a 2100 square foot unoccupied dwelling…but if it is, it appears that AFD, with a little help from their friends (OFD) got the job done and no other structures burned in Alameda that night….

    Comment by moe reese Harte — June 22, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  19. According to Council member Lena Tam at today’s League of Women Voters of Alameda meeting, the City Council may place a competing measure on November’s ballot to oppose the firefighter’s proposed charter amendment.

    So there WILL be an election this November, and charter change is sure to be a “hot potato” issue.

    Frankly, I’m with mark Irons on this: the City Charter is the wrong place to enshrine fire department staffing levels, budgets, and other policies that can change over time.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — June 27, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

  20. Here we go again. Government can’t come up with a reasonable solution to a problem, so an initiative is used to solve the problem. This is how we got Prop 13. This is the job of the city council. Taking it to the ballot is the last resort for when government fails. The council needs to solve the problem before it gets locked into the charter. If that happens, the council will have only itself to blame. If our government was acting effectively, we wouldn’t have all these measures on the ballot.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — June 27, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

  21. # 9 Talking about volunteer fire departments, we just got our bill from the volunteer fire department in Tolu Kentucky, where my wife inherited a three bedroom house on six acres. The bill doubled this year. Went all the way from $10 a year to $20 a year. Course when it’s my turn to volunteer the response time will be in measured in days not minutes.

    Comment by Jack Richard — June 28, 2009 @ 3:05 pm

  22. As a non firefighter type person I know little about how the operation of a firehouse works….but I was wondering, could the same job be accomplished with 8 10 or 12 hour shifts instead of the 24 hour and sometimes 48 hour shifts that the firefighters enjoy? I think shift work would cut down on overtime and the amount of meaks that need to be cook at the firehouse, the need for beds for everyone…recliners…why would this not work? I have been told that the sleeping in the firehouse is based on tradition only…could someone enlighten me? Thank you

    Comment by moe reese Harte — June 28, 2009 @ 6:09 pm

  23. #22

    Here’s an answer.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — June 28, 2009 @ 8:47 pm

  24. Since firefighting is a “life threatening” (or at least burned hands) experience, they should be paid the same as soldiers, airmen, sailors, coasties…and not a dime less.

    Comment by Jack Richard — June 28, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

  25. 24. Are they not already compensated much better than military, especially when it comes to retirement? I suspect any firemen like those at 9/11 Ground Zero, would get better treatment for PTSD than the troops coming home from Iraq, who are treated quite poorly.

    Comment by M.I. — June 29, 2009 @ 5:41 pm

  26. #25

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — June 29, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

  27. #19-Correction:

    “According to Council member Lena Tam at today’s League of Women Voters of Alameda meeting, the City Council may place a competing measure on November’s ballot to oppose the firefighter’s proposed charter amendment.

    My friend Lena Tam tells me that she called the possible City Council firefighting measure a “companion measure” to the firefighters’ proposed Charter amendment at the LWVA meeting, and not a competing measure. (I was not quoting her when I wrote the words “competing measure,” which was my own characterization of what she said and of the issues involved.)

    I cannot attest to the exact words that she used, and she may well have called it “companion measure.” I did not intend to put words in her mouth or misquote her in my Saturday post, and I apologize for any misleading words in my post: they were not intentional.

    I stand by the rest of my post, however, and I expect the firefighters’ proposed Charter amendment to be a contentious issue, with or without any accompanying Council-sponsored initiatives on the same topic–no matter how they may be described.

    I still think that enshrining fire department staffing levels in a City Charter is one of the least intelligent ways to govern a city that I can imagine.

    Using Linda’s computer, this really is by Jon Spangler… 🙂

    (We are stuck on dial-up while awaiting changes in our DSL hookup.)

    Comment by Linda Hudson — June 30, 2009 @ 12:49 am

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