Alameda City Council report: cuts in firefighter staffing levels

There has been much talk in Alameda of late about staffing changes in the fire department. Firefighters have been leafletting and also developed this site. There’s also a Facebook group, “Save Alameda Firehouses!”

At last night’s City Council meeting, staff presented a report to council about emergency response time in Alameda and the cost of maintaining current service levels. Most city departments have cut their budgets by eight percent this year; the police and fire departments have been asked to cut their budgets by four percent. In keeping with this target, and a goal of keeping the city running in what looks to be difficult economic years to come, starting in late January in Alameda there will be, at least for a percentage of the time—what I understood to be about 15 percent of the time, or 50 days a year—one less emergency vehicle (and the staff to operate it) on call.

If I understand correctly what Alameda’s Fire Chief Dave Kapler was saying last night around about 11 p.m., he estimates that the staffing cut will impact 14 or 15 acute
calls for help next year, about half of them for trauma, the other half for cardiac events. From what the chief said the response time of the first vehicle will not be impacted—a fire truck with a paramedic—but the response time of the second vehicle, an ambulance with another paramedic and the ability to transport, would likely be. (As I understand it, five firefighters respond to medical emergencies, 18 respond to structure fires…there were, btw, 32 structure fires in Alameda last year.) For heart attacks, the chief said, getting to the victim fast is the most important thing; for trauma cases, where there is less than can be done in the field, speedy transport to a hospital is key.

The specific numbers presented last night were heartening—I learned, for example, it’s not ALL the time that staffing levels will be lower than 27, just when enough firefighters are off for whatever reason (injury, illness, vacation, training) and would have, in the past, been replaced by firefighters working overtime. Also, the response time for most calls to the fire department in the City of Alameda is about four minutes. The county minimum is eight minutes….though no one at the City Council meeting night knew what the county average response time is…four minutes seems very quick. And every time I’ve had chance to be around when firefighters are called response has been amazing. Given all this data, I came away less afraid than I had been about how these cuts will impact services for Alamedans. You can read the whole staff report here. And watch the meeting (very informative) here (the fire department item is 5B).