UPDATED Consultant recommends fire restructure
City officials on Wednesday released a consultant’s report recommending an overhaul of the city’s fire department that would change the department’s focus and the very notion of what it means to be a firefighter.
The 81-page report, written by the Washington, D.C.-based ICMA Consulting Services, suggests the department focus its efforts on preventing fires and accidents instead of just responding to them, and it suggests a variety of tasks firefighters can do while they are not out on calls.
It also suggests a significant flattening of the department’s command structure, a smaller workforce and a station closure. Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant announced last week that the city will cut 11 positions in the department and close Station Five at Alameda Point.
The report’s authors did no recommend combining the Island’s police and fire departments, as rumored earlier. “Quite frankly, much can be done with the existing department to preclude such a move,” they wrote.
A separate report on the police department is pending (though I hear a reorganization plan for that department is just about finished).
According to the report, the city is paying for 180,000 work hours at the fire department each year. The department responds to 16 non-canceled calls per day, which take up an average of 28 minutes each from start to finish.
In addition to training and station duties, the time that remains could be used “for data analysis, GIS, training programming, maintenance, prevention, inspection, and other service delivery,” it says.
In plain English, that would mean that the department’s firefighters would take on new roles as deputy fire marshals, boosting the department’s ability to ensure buildings are up to code (and fire hazards they could pose, mitigated in advance). The consultants envision the building department being placed under fire’s command to consolidate these efforts.
The community would be asked to help out, too: Buildings wold be sprinklered, and the systems, catalogued; and portable defibrillators would be placed in public buildings to ensure “viable patients” when firefighters arrive. It recommends that CPR be taught to kids in the third grade. And the report recommends cost-recovery strategies that include billing people’s auto and homeowner’s insurance for accident and fire response.
Even the name “firefighter” is up for review (they’re recommending “safety specialist”).
The report also suggests trimming fire staff, shutting a station and flattening the department’s command structure. Under its recommendations, the department would have 86 sworn personnel (they had 102 in 2008). Administrative work could be shifted to other departments. And the department could phase out some of its better trained (and paid) paramedics for emergency medical technicians.
The department would be led by a chief, two deputy chiefs and five captains. In 2008, the city’s budget listed a chief, six division chiefs and 24 captains.
It also suggests shuttering Station Five on Alameda Point or Station Three, on Grand Street, and selling it to help fund a new training center. On average, Station Five got just under a call a day, the report says (and three needs an earthquake retrofit, if I’m not mistaken).
No word yet on whether the city will implement some of the rest of these recommendations.