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Alameda fire department cuts make KTVU

By epearlman
Sunday, January 11th, 2009 at 10:15 pm in Alameda firefighters, City Council, IAFF, Island Life, Prop. 13, the economy.

KTVU ran a story tonight on Alameda fire station “brown outs.” They interviewed Alameda firefighter Dom Weaver and Councilmember Frank Matarrese, both of whom have been opposed cuts all along. For balance, they interviewed a woman in a cafe, saying, generally, that tough times call for budget cuts and, too, they interviewed Mayor Beverly Johnson, who talked about the millions upon millions the city has trimmed from its budget in recent years.

While the story mentions the economic downturn as an underlying cause of the cuts, it fails to mention a second important key to the issue, that the cost of providing services in Alameda is incredibly high because of salaries and benefits negotiated by the International Association of Firefighters, Local 689, which represents Alameda’s firefighters. I find it hypocritical that while blaming the city for cut backs, the firefighters refuse to look at their own compensation packages. If each firefighter were paid less, the city could afford more. To pretend that can’t be an option, that the only option is to take an even higher portion of the city’s general fund or to cut service is disingenuous. I know you’re not supposed to talk this way about the men and women who protect us, and I know that I for one would rather not, but I think it is a fundamental part of this discussion and must be raised and raised again.

Also: the numbers put out by the union as reported in this piece, saying two pieces of equipment (an engine and an ambulance) being taken out of service every day, are entirely different from the estimates of service cut backs made by Fire Chief David Kapler at last Tuesday’s council meeting. In fact, the characterizations of the impact are so far apart it’s mind-numbing. The union is saying (as reported by KTVU) that it would be a fire engine and an ambulance that would be taken out of service almost every day. The Fire Chief told council last week that it would an ambulance (which, in Alameda, is generally the second vehicle to respond to a call…the first is a fire engine staffed with a paramedic) that would be taken out of service, and then only about 50 days a year, or 15 percent of the time.

More to come on this, I am sure.

But here is the question of the day: Average response time for the vast majority of calls in Alameda is four minutes…that means paramedics (and most calls for help are for medical emergencies, not fire) are usually are at your door in four minutes. Not bad. Pretty amazing, actually. And I understand the county sets eight minutes as a maximum average response time. But here is my question: How does the response time in Alameda compare to other East Bay cities and towns?

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  • Corblue

    How about the fire fighters not abuse the system? They go on vacation for a month then work three days a week and they get paid over-time.
    How about they work more than two days a week?
    Fire fighters get paid a lot of money to only work two days a week. Most fire fighters have another full-time job!!

  • Mark Irons

    I am concerned about veracity of comment #1, seems dubious. I have never heard about the fire fighters I have known in other cities holding second full time jobs. I do not currently know any Alameda fire fighters but in Oakland I knew two guys who tried to run a breakfast restaurant on the side and they couldn’t hack it. A friend on the peninsula definitely does not have another job.

    The “days” fire fighters work are 24 hours on aren’t they? Comment #1 smacks of the same sloppy knee jerk accusations aimed at teachers every time AUSD had budget problems.

    Safety workers are considered to have relatively high stress and face danger, but I’d be glad to be one in this town. It’s not Detroit. It is not just the strength of the unions which allow these great contracts, I hate to say it, but I think there is a level of hero worship here which makes criticism of these job categories politically thorny. Fire and police are very handsomely compensated.