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.