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UPDATED Consultant recommends fire restructure

Submitted by on 1, May 14, 2009 – 5:50 am5 Comments

fire-station-oneCity 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.


  • Neal_J says:

    Is the report available for review on-line somewhere?

  • Scott says:

    Amazing! If you do the math you will see that out of the 180,000 work hours, only about 1.5% of those hours are actually being used for productive purposes. Also with 102 personnel this means an average work week of only about 34 hours.

    Where can I get a job where I only have to actually work 1.5% of the time I get paid and on average only have to show up for 34 hours per week?

  • Domenick says:

    Let’s all not forget the impetus for this report. The firefighters have copies of the e-mail’s that went back and forth between City staff and the ICMA consultant in December of last year. Where our City staffer writes:

    “Our firefighters union has decided to put a minimum staffing voter initiative on the ballot probably for next Nov. (maybe June). In your experience, can you provide us with the names of any other cities that have experienced this so we can start preparing for what this might mean for us?

    Of course, it will make your study that much more important.”

    Now the study has been used to make cuts, and your City staff refused to give the firefighter’s representatives a copy of it or any drafts until the day it was released to the media. Even after Ann Marie Gallant admits that ” The fire cuts were based on a consultant’s report on the fire department that is due out next week.”. The report was not received by our representatives until after the announcement of layoffs and 3 meetings into impact negotiations over the layoffs. How is that negotiating fairly?

    Now the consultant’s report is out there, and people are calculating statistics that really don’t mean anything. How credible is ICMA? I asked the representative how many other cities have used their same services for Fire and Police studies in the Bay Area? His answer was none. I asked about Northern California? His answer was none. I asked about the whole state of California? His answer was 1. He told me it was a study on Fire Truck needs for a small jurisdiction near Palm Desert. It was several years ago, and the jurisdiction eventually joined Riverside County.

    With the cuts that Gallant and Chief Kapler are implementing, and the further reduction in your level of emergency service, it is becoming more and more critical that this community become interested and invloved with what is going on. Your services have been reduced and will continue to be reduced dramatically without your involvement. Call, write and e-mail the Council. Go to the council meeting and tell them enough is enough.

    Your firefighters are trying to educate you on what is happening and where the risks lie. Your firefighters are the ones who have experience with the emergency response patterns and dangers of Alameda, not outsiders with no level of loyalty to this community. Chief Kapler and Ann Marie Gallant have been here for about a year and a half and a year respectively. They both make more than the President of the United States on your tax dollar. Your firefighters will be here long after the Chief and City Manager, still serving your needs. Your firefighters are trying to give you the opportunity to decide on your level of service through our ballot initiative. Remember, we suggest nothing more than what has been provided to you since Alameda took over the Naval Air Station in 1997. Your Fire Department is currently staffed at a level less than that in 1985, and going on a lot more calls. As more resources are closed, your response times will decay. At this point, all you can hope for is that when you need our services, your call won’t be the one that receives a delayed response.

  • Liz Williams says:

    The firefighters serving our needs? Not if one of them is angry at another firefighter and decides to “teach him a lesson” instead of resuscitating a victim. And not if your name is Raymond Zack and, despondent, you wade out in the water at Crown Beach to decide what to do.

    And why did the firefighters not help him? Because they were so angry about not receiving overtime for water rescue training and having their rescue boats taken out of service, they unilaterally decided to end the water rescue training without even notifying the city much less “negotiating” such a radical change in service. That’s the “education” that’s missing. Spin that Dom, if you can.

    One other thing, even though this thread is old: There is a difference between a management decision – which the Fire Chief and our city government are hired and obligated to make – and a negotiation with a union. Pretending that “transparent” government requires blurring the necessary line between those two things is the most fallacious reasoning. Believing that our firefighters have our best interests at heart is… well have you been smoking?

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