Did anyone catch the Contra Costa Times article about Fire Engine staffing? It was an interesting read and one that brought up a whole lot of contradictions from an Alameda standpoint. For example, the article reported this:
Of 17 East Bay fire departments, only Oakland meets all four key national measures of adequate fire protection set by the International City/County Management Association and the National Fire Protection Association, according to a review by this newspaper.
Your eyes are not deceiving you, the International City/County Management Association, the organization that is generally trotted out when folks want to show proof that Alameda’s Fire Department is bloated has a benchmark so high that only one of 17 East Bay fire departments meet the measure of having adequate fire protection. And that one fire department is not Alameda’s.
Here are the benchmarks:
- Four firefighters per engine or truck; only Oakland follows the four-person National Fire Protection Association standard. Most use three.
- One firefighter per 1,000 people in population; just less than half of the agencies met the minimum staffing level advised by the International City/County Management Association.
- First unit on the scene within five minutes 90 percent of the time, more than two-thirds of departments failed to meet this benchmark developed by the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA. Contra Costa Fire had the worst performance in the East Bay at an average of nine minutes, 24 seconds. With four of its 28 stations set to close Jan. 15 after the failure of a November tax measure, this response time will likely lengthen.
- Put at least 15 trained and equipped firefighters on the scene of a single-family residential structure fire within nine minutes, 20 seconds 90 percent of the time; less than one-third of the agencies meet the National Fire Protection Association recommendation.
But here’s the kicker, with the ICMA paired with NFPA on one side as the “we need more, not less” amazingly enough arguing the other side is a consultant with Citygate who said that the benchmarks aren’t realistic:
The standards make no distinctions between population densities in rural or suburban communities and cities, said Stewart Gary, a fire services consultant with Citygate Associates and a retired Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department chief.
Oakland meets the broad standards because much of the city is flat and accessible from multiple points, but suburban districts with non-grid streets, widely spaced stations and varying topography cannot afford it, Gary explained. City fire departments also have access to a larger pool of money than special districts, which rely almost solely on property taxes.
“I wish agencies would stop applying one-size-fits-all national recommendations,” Gary said.
Citygate, on the other hand, produced a report that said that Alameda’s fire services are essentially performing well and cautioned against considering shutting down or consolidating Stations 2 and 3, but came down on the side of “every location is different and has different needs.”
And given the number of fires that occurred in Alameda just these past two months or so, I’m going to guess that the chorus singing the praises of shutting down a fire station may not be as in tune as in the past.