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City plans more fire service reductions

Submitted by on 1, June 23, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment

fire-station-oneFirefighters are burning mad about proposed overtime cuts that could leave the department staffed with as few as 21 firefighters per shift as of July 1 and force it to “brown out” another truck, this one at its Park Street station.

They’re saying the cuts will further jeopardize residents’ safety and that they are a direct result of fiscal mismanagement by city leaders.

“When somebody calls 911, they expect help. And with these cuts, they’re not going to get that help as fast as they would have,” said Sam Yussim, a spokesman for the firefighters.

The department has had the same number of staff per shift since 1989, firefighters said. But in an effort to conserve limited overtime cash, Fire Chief David Kapler allowed staffing levels to fall to 24 per shift, beginning in late January.

Kapler, who said the reduced staffing is a result of a big reduction in the department’s overtime budget, is saying that Alameda is making the same cuts as neighboring cities that are being hit by the same national economic crisis.

“The majority of cities are doing things that are similar to what we’re doing,” he said.

Kapler said the reduced staffing numbers would be a result of a planned reduction of the department’s overtime budget from $800,000 this year to between $500,000 and $600,000 next year.

He said that 28 fire staff will continue to be assigned to each shift and that the goal is to continue to have 24 on duty at all times. But if overtime costs start to exceed the department’s allotment for each pay period, staffing could drop to as few as 21 per shift. (The truck brownout, he said, is subject to negotiation with the union. But Station 5 on Alameda Point will remain closed.)

“It’d be dependent on how many people do or don’t show up to work on any given day,” Kapler said.

Firefighters are saying they’re already stretched to the limit, and that the per-shift staffing reductions they’ve experienced since January have caused measurable service impacts. Yussim said that more than 200 fire responses have been delayed since the brownouts went into effect.

He said city leaders promised to use money from the Measure P property transfer tax increase to maintain public safety services. (The tax increase was on track to take in far less money than expected this year.)

But the firefighters are angriest with Fire Chief David Kapler, who Yussim claimed has broken promises to keep fire stations open and preserve shift staffing levels. The fire union has taken a vote of “no confidence” in Kapler and asked him to resign.

Kapler said he doesn’t like to run low on staff, and he conceded that while it’s not unusual for all of the department’s staff to be busy when calls come in, it’s going to happen more often as additional cuts are put in place.

“I have to work within a budget. I do the best I can with the resources I have,” Kapler said.

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