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?