Alameda Fire Chief Dave Kapler station on impact of cuts

I met with the Alameda’s Fire Chief Dave Kapler this morning to ask him the question that I think is probably on most Alamedans’ minds: “What do fire station ‘brown outs’ mean for us when we call in an emergency?”

Kapler gave me some stats, comparing response time in 2008 to response time in 2009 since brown outs began. (His stats are from before last week when the department changed the vehicle slated to be closed when staffing levels drop below 27 because of illness or vacation from a Bay Farm ambulance to the engine at station five, the western-most Island station.)

In 2008, the average time in took both vehicles (staffed by five firefighters/paramedics) to be at the scene of an emergency was four minutes and 19 seconds. Any time you call for help in Alameda two vehicles will come. The first will be a fire engine with a paramedic and two firefighters and the second will be an ambulance with another paramedic and another firefighter. By way of benchmark, the county standard for average response time is eight minutes.

During the ‘brown out’ period—from January 26 to March 17—average response time (that means, again, the time it took both vehicles to arrive) was 4 minutes and 48 seconds. That’s a 30-second increase. Again, that’s not the time it took the first vehicle to arrive (which was, I saw, glancing over Kapler’s chart, still almost always under four minutes) but the time it took both vehicles to arrive. Kapler had this to say about the impact:

Budgetarily it is necessary for the fire department to reduce spending. And we believe that the plans that we have in place with provide the best possible service and have the least impact on the community and we monitor this day to day and we review our plans monthly and if we see adjustments are necessary and a better way to do it we implement changes. But the service level with 24 is not as good as the service level with 27, but we’re attempting to make it as seemless as possible.

For another way to look at the statistics, the firefighters are tracking ‘effected’ incidents. By which it is my understanding they mean any call that is made to a station that has a ‘browned out’ ambulance or fire engine. You can see their info here.

Alameda firefighters are working out of contract and are in ongoing negotiations with the city. They are also collecting signatures for an amendment to the city charter that would set minimum staffing levels at 27, three up from the current (since January of this year) levels. And the city is suing to block the placement of the charter amendment.


  • http://laurendo.wordpress.com Lauren Do

    Really interesting, thanks Eve. I think it’s important to note that the initial vehicle will always get there under four minutes. I know that I feel comfortable — and am impressed — that the brownouts have minimally impacted levels of service.

  • http://www.savealamedafirehouses.com Domenick Weaver

    Eve, Just to clarify, THERE IS NO GUARANTEE the first responding unit will arrive in under 4 minutes. WIth the brownouts, there have been several instances where the first responder DID NOT arrive in under 4 minutes. Including a CARDIAC ARREST on March 14th that had a 7 minute 10 second response time for the first responder. Had there not been a unit browned out that day, it would have been likely a first responder would have arrived at about 4 minutes. That time difference is incredibly critical to that type of call as it increases the chance of survivability. With every minute of delayed treatment, the chances go down.

    The ballot initiative does not seek to increase staffing and deployment in the AFD. It seeks to establish a minimum threshold that has been established for 12 years. What it does, is limit the manipulation of staffing emergency resources to meet an already handicapped budget. It lets the citizens become informed and decide what level of service they want.

    Finally, the people of Alameda need to know that the “Union” representing Alameda Firefighters is made up of, and run entirely by Alameda Firefighters who want nothing more that to serve the community to the best of their ability. We have no desire to bankrupt our employer. I hope that helps people understand. I encourage any and all who are interested in finding out about how things have got to this stage to attend one of our upcoming “Town Hall” meetings. See http://www.savealamedafirehouses.com for more info.

  • William Michaels

    I feel the City pulled a fast on me. I voted for Measure P in November and it passed by a narrow margin (Less than 1%). I voted for it because it said it would maintain vital City services and in fact it stated in the first line of the voter pamphlet “To maintain essential City services such as keeping existing fire stations open”. And now the city is closing a Fire Station. If any body should be suing it should be the voters of Alameda to repeal Measure P!!!!

    William Michaels

  • Eve Pearlman

    Hi, William! I think it’s important to remember that times are tough and funds are limited and there are lots of forces at work on city government. I do know that initial Measure P estimates were made based on numbers before the crash of the economy/housing market, for example. And I don’t think anyone really has a handle on how much post retirement benefits (retiree health care costs, for example) would continue to sky rocket. I suspect that if that P hadn’t passed we would be looking at more cuts to services. That said, looking at the increase in emergency response time in the city makes me sad, and I’m hopeful the new city manager can look carefully at all ways to maintain services for people in Alameda—emergency services along with parks along with roads and traffic lights and everything we as a community need.

  • Eve Pearlman

    Dom wrote:

    “The ballot initiative does not seek to increase staffing and deployment in the AFD. It seeks to establish a minimum threshold that has been established for 12 years. What it does, is limit the manipulation of staffing emergency resources to meet an already handicapped budget. It lets the citizens become informed and decide what level of service they want.”

    While we all want the best possible–there’s a lot that I want but I can’t afford–we also have to live within our means. As the city’s means contract, and the cost of providing services increases, compromises must be made. Governing by ballot initiative makes no sense and handicaps those who are in charge of the big picture–maintaining all city services as much as possible.

    Of course we want more emergency personnel on duty! Of course no amount of time is short enough when we’re waiting in an emergency! But we can’t afford to maintain what we’ve got with the salary and benefits and management and infrastructure that we currently have. The question I am most interested in is how can we maintain, as much as possible, current service levels by cutting elsewhere? What structural and strategic changes can be made? This is time for out of the box thinking not head-to-head warfare, charter amendment v. lawsuit. It isn’t going to be the way it was, so what should the new way look like? And how can you help.

  • http://www.johnknoxwhite.com John Knox White

    Lauren Do posted a good video link about Measure P and the changing circumstances since it was placed on the ballot and today: