FIRED UP ... Firefighters, much like movie stars and astronauts, have always held a special place in the popular imagination, with millions of American children dreaming of one day riding a fire engine and charging into a burning building to perform heroic acts. But while this picture still holds true, the Palo Alto Fire Department has been devoting a greater chunk of its time to medical care in recent years. That was one of the findings unveiled this week by consultants from the firms TriData and ICMA. The two consulting firms found that while the total number of incidents reported to the Fire Department went up by 19 percent between 2000 and 2009, the number of emergency medical service calls jumped by 48 percent. Stephen Brezler, a consultant from TriData, told the City Council this week that this trend isn't surprising, given the latest demographic trends — namely, the aging of the local population. "It's not unusual that Palo Alto is really facing the dilemma that most communities are — increasing EMS demand while fire is actually decreasing," Brezler said. He predicted that by 2020, EMS calls would make up 64 percent of local incidents, while actual fires would only constitute 2 percent (the other 32 percent would be responses to false alarms and miscellaneous service calls). The consultants slammed the department for substandard training, poor planning and a "leadership malaise," but praised the department's rank-and-file for delivering great service — both in the medical and firefighting realms. "The city can sleep well knowing that the Fire Department handles the emergencies, that it does it professionally and does an outstanding job," Brezler said.
BOOKS ON THE MOVE ... Palo Alto residents who rely on the Main Library for their literary needs won't have to stray too far when the popular branch closes for construction in 2012. That's because the City Council agreed this week to set up a temporary library at the Palo Alto Art Center, which stands next to the library, once construction begins. The council voted unanimously to support a staff recommendation for the temporary facility. Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd said the availability of parking at the site make the Art Center an easy and reasonable choice. "I think the community knows how to get there and that's also important," Shepherd said. Meanwhile, the library system has just unveiled a new tool that makes visiting branches unnecessary for most basic services. The new program, called Library Anywhere, allows people to use cell phones to search the library catalog and access library services. The service is available at http://www.libanywhere.com , or through an app download.