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Town Square

Palo Alto banking on a leaner Fire Department

Original post made on Oct 19, 2012

Palo Alto's effort to transform its Fire Department into a leaner and more flexible organization with a greater emphasis on medical response has already resulted in a dramatic decrease in overtime spending and expense savings of more than a $1 million in the current year.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 19, 2012, 12:21 PM

Comments

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm

It's hard to tell from a casual reading of the CMR linked to in the article above--but there seems to be some significant reorganization going on in the PAFD. The recommendation in the appendix are significant, and our require a lot of "mulling over" to understand if these recommendations were to be implemented would result in better service and lower costs--or just growing the size and cost of the PAFD.

The report indicates that the PAFD is now becoming aware of "data"--identifying a number of monitoring devices which have been added to the emergency response units, which (presumably) will upload this data to their operations database for monitoring. This is a big step forward, because, over time, operational modeling can become refined enough to identify problems with individual crews, such as slow response, compared to the average. Let's hope the FD does a good job of this, since it can provide the "hard data" necessary to justify future changes.

The terminology in this report seems along the lines that I would like to see in all future Fire/Police documentation. I also hope that the data collected becomes readily available. Having requested data from the PAFD in the past, it almost never was provided.

There are a few of the recommendations that appear in the Appendix which I found beyond the scope of a simple emergency response service. Hopefully, those recommendations will be ignored, when reviewed in the light of day.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

How can it be a leaner FD if the new chief is being so grossly overpaid?


Posted by Too Many, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

When are they going to close a fire station to save money? Do we really need 7 fire stations manned 24/7 with an 8th in the hills during the Summer months?


Posted by Bryon, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2012 at 8:40 pm

We don't need all these Fire stations! Most 911 calls are medic in nature. We need to outsource most of our fire service to private ambulance companies. Lets see some real cuts in pensions and medical benifits!!


Posted by Mark, a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Cut the medical program and then you're losing a significant source of city revenue. I mean $865,770 in just one quarter isn't a shabby amount of money for the city to put into their coffers...would kind of suck to not be able to get those dollars which would otherwise go to a private ambulance company. Aside from fees given to PAFD from Stanford, I think this is like the second most important source of Fire Department revenue.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Professorville
on Oct 19, 2012 at 10:12 pm

Outsource to private ambulance companies? Maybe you aren't aware that the department has been providing ambulance service to the community since the 1970's. This department is the only one of it's kind in the county that can still provide ambulance transport because they are grandfathered in. The transport portion of the department generates nearly 2.5 million dollars each year that goes back into the city's general fund. In terms of Fire Departments, this is unprecidented.

If you somehow think that outsourcing this service is going to save the city money, you are incorrect. In fact, the recent third party study provided data that clearly showed evidence that the fire department generates "significant" profits through its well run ambulance transport program. The study even suggested expanding the program. As hard as it is for some of you to swallow, the fire department and it's members are clearly successful in providing a first class service to the community while generating "significant" profits back to the city's general fund. If you'd like to read the report, just google it. It's all public information..


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

"Too Many"

There is not "7 fire stations staffed 24/7 with 8th in Summer"

There are 5 Stations is Palo Alto, 1 more 12 hours per day in Summer months in Foothills park. There is one on Stanford campus 24/7.
Stanford pays a portion of FD costs for the service they contract for.


Posted by lazlo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm

...and so the Keene and Klein plan to outsource public safety and service merrily continues forward. Never mind that the city manager is criticized for ineptness and the fire department was run by a police chief who was a wannabe fire chief during this biased study on efficiency. Noticed that those posting concerns on the new "real" fire chief's salary fail to mention that the city manager makes $500,000 salary and benefits including a furnished house and property taxes paid for by city taxpayers, car allowance, gym fees paid in full, more than eight weeks vacation time, sick leave, 100% medical,dental,vision benefits for his family and himself, etc. etc....
In return, we are offered less city services with deficit budgets for every year he has been employed by the city. Why do we continue to pay for inept management? What a pity.


Posted by Veteran, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Whether Keene is overpaid or not (and I personally think he is) doesn't make the new fire chief any less overpaid.

The entire fire department could be staffed at around 1/2 the total cost if the city were determined to pay market rate for the services provided. Returning vets who can't find work who would do the job for about half the total compensation (still over 100K). I'd enjoy taking home more than double I did in an actual warzone, for doing a 100X more cushy job.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 20, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I totally agree with Veteran. Union FF's in the Bay area are the most overpaid and under worked employees. PA could save 50% of the current cost of the current PAFD budget by paying market rate and staffing to meet the workload.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 21, 2012 at 6:43 am

"Training for firefighters and paramedics has also been enhanced."

That sounds good but I hope it goes farther than sending managers to training. The last I heard, the FFs pay for their own training and go on their own time.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

"Veteran"

Thank you for your service to your country. What do you mean by market rate?? CA? Bay Area? Peninsula? Palo Alto FF's are not making above market rate for Bay Area and or Peninsula. They have pretty much always been about average.
If you "would enjoy taking home more than double what you did in an actual war zone" then why don't you go out there and compete for a FF job and start getting education and certs, start taking entry level tests. The PAFD has hired many veterans throughout the years and at present time as well.


Posted by Voter, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Union FF's in the Bay area are the most overpaid and under worked employees.

+1. And the fact that other cities overpay as well doesn't define the market and mean Palo Alto should.

With the current level of overpaying that we do, there are routinely hundreds of qualified applicants for any rare opening. Attrition rates are also close to zero since the firefighters are paid much more than they are worth on the open job market.


Posted by Voter, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm

This is national data, so obviously Bay Area will be higher, but judge for yourself if 200K in total comp is a good deal for a union Palo Alto firefighter.


Occupation Fatality Rate per 100,000 Mean Salary

Firefighter 7 $45,250
Police and Sheriff 16 $55,670
Driver/Sales Workers and Truck Drivers 21.8 $40,410
Refuse and Recycling Collectors 29.8 $34,310
Roofers 32.4 $37,880
Mining Machine Operators 38.7 $44,010
Coal Miners 38.9 $43,420
Farmers/Ranchers 41.4 $42,710
Miscellaneous Extraction Workers 64.2 $43,870
Pilots and Flight Engineers 70.6 $115,300
Logging Workers 91.9 $34,510
Fishing-Related Workers 116 $27,880

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics


Posted by Mark, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2012 at 10:10 am

That's a good one Voter. I would like to see anyone in this area make a living on just that wage. You yourself should know living here in Palo Alto that the National Average has little or nothing to do with California. We have regular homes in the city that are being sold for $1M plus that in other parts of the country would sell for less than 100K. How is that even close to being an average. If you want to look at numbers, then you have to look at what is real here in the area. Not what it takes to make a living in Kentucky. We are all well educated people here in this area, yet we still hang out hats on ridiculous facts. Look at what is real and what isn't. What do you think you could raise a family in this area for. Don't be greedy, but you don't have to be absurd either.


Posted by Michael, a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 22, 2012 at 11:48 am

Mark, Voter clearly states "this is national data, so obviously Bay Area will be higher."

You missed the point. That data is simply showing that firefighting is much safer than comparable jobs, and that nationally it doesn't carry much of a compensation premium over other similar work.

Given that, 200K per year + pensions long after they retire is grossly overpaying for Palo Alto. 110K (65K base, 15K employer 401K contribution, 30K medical, insurance, and other benefits) would probably see an abundance of qualified candidates.


Posted by The_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm

The_punnisher is a registered user.

One thing Palo Alto should look at are the new FIREFIGHTING ROBOTS that are being marketed. These are offshoots of the robots used by the military and our DOMESTIC military forces known as SWAT teams. Like dealing with an IED, the same situation can exist when you have to enter a burning building.

Making the job of fighting fires a little easier....


Posted by steve, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Thats a great idea robots that can fight fire. I would love to see that robot climb stairs when there is no visibility inside. Look how long it takes robots to search for buried IED's in the dirt. Hope thats not a family member. Rubbish!!!!


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2012 at 3:27 pm

"Michael"

Your comparing coal mining and roofing to firefighter/paramedic/emt??

How are they similar jobs? with similar educational requirements?

And did I miss something? I did not realize employees in the US were paid by the percent chance of getting killed or injured on the job? If that was the case then there would be a lot of less paid people in the Santa Clara Valley area.
Most FFs and paramedics have at least two to four years of college, Paramedic license or EMT plus advanced certifications in the area of fire service course work and training.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm

To Jake,
To be a Palo Alto Firefighter you only need to be age 21 and have a high school diploma. There is no requirement of a college education. To be a Palo Alto Paramedic Firefighter you need the above and a paramedic license. Lets be real.


Posted by Voter, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 22, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Almost every fire related thread features fire-union types arguing that they're job is so very difficult and dangerous, and that we ungrateful citizens don't understand that if we dare to think them overpaid.

The stats above quantify how little truth there is in that argument.

Michael, I think you're assessment of where the market lies is absolutely correct. I can't imagine being unable to hire at the rates you suggest.


Posted by Mark, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2012 at 9:24 am

Voter,

As it was said before, try to raise a family in this area with the wages that you are presenting. Mercury News ran an article about a year ago that stated the middle class wage needed for the San Francisco Area is about $75K. Do you really think that this area is any different. We have had no loss in housing prices and there are reports that growth has been 4% even in the years when everyone else has been dropping in major numbers. There are alot of aspects about the Fire Department and what they do that we are not really sure about due to the fact that we just go by what was learned in a childrens book or on tv. I have talked to some that work in the area and was pretty amazed at the knowledge base that they have to have. You should take the time to visit with them and maybe you would see that putting out fires is just a small portion of what is required. If you go into the conversation with an open mind like I did,,you might even have a different opinion when done.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 10:56 am

Mark, as impressed as you are with what firefighters do, the market speaks without emotion.

When there are hundreds of qualified applicants for every opening, and near zero voluntary turnover, the market is telling Palo Alto taxpayers that they are overpaying for the services they are getting.

Conversely, if we paid our firefighters minimum wage with no benefits, turnover would be high and it would be very difficult to find qualified candidates: the market would tell us that we need to pay more.

We are clearly in the overpaid spectrum by a considerable margin.

Cost of living is baked into the labor market. For example, a private sector secretary likely cannot afford to buy in Palo Alto, but many are willing to commute in or rent to fill secretary jobs in PA, so the market rate for secretaries settles somewhere below the cost middle class, homeowning living in PA, but probably a little higher than in SJ or further out. It is not the taxpayers responsibility to backfill city workers to a PA middle class lifestyle unless the market dictates that that is what the workers services are worth, any more than it is McDonalds responsibility to pay the workers in its Palo Alto store any more than the point at which supply and demand balance.


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:21 am

"Frank"

I just spoke with several PAFD firefighters this weekend about educational requirements. NOBODY is getting hired with the min requirements the City has used since the dawn of time, these days.
Vast majority have college degrees and advanced training and certs.
I spoke with one FF who truely believes the City wants the public to think 21 y/o HS grads are the ones getting hired. Because it helps the City and some people promote the spin that the FF/paramedics are overpaid, ie HS grad and 21 only.
The City should not be spending the money testing people with HS diplomas only, If there is no chance of the person getting hired in the first place. It costs a lot of money to procss candidates through the testing process.
I spoke with yet another FF this weekend at fire hall event who when asked about entry requirents stated that Palo Alto has some of the lowest standards for applying for job, even though it's no secret the chances of a person getting hired with the bare min is pretty slim to none.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:55 am

Karen

" the market speaks without emotion."

That is true. The fact is more than half of the private sector (and public sector) jobs in Palo Alto could be shipped off to cheaper places like India or China without any detrimental impact on the work being performed. As a shareholder of many companies I would like to see more EPS based on eliminating excess wages. I imagine it would be much easier to outsource your job than it would be be to outsource PA public safety jobs.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:13 pm

"As a shareholder of many companies I would like to see more EPS based on eliminating excess wages. I imagine it would be much easier to outsource your job than it would be be to outsource PA public safety jobs."

Alphonso, you're trying to make a spiteful point but you're right about outsourcing having the potential to create efficiency. The difference, though, is that I, along with most of the private sector, am already required to produce in ways lower cost overseas workers cannot in order to insure that I still add value to my company and justify my pay. If I didn't add twice the value that an overseas worker adds at half the cost, I'd be gone or looking at a sharp pay decrease.

In the public sector, there is no such accountability. A firefighter making 200K in total comp in PA is not producing twice as much value as the two replacements at 100K who could be hired from the hundreds of applicants that would flood any openings at that compensation rate.

We in the private sector, no matter how liberal our values, are simply no longer willing to support a lack of accountability to value and efficiency for those in the public sector whose wages we are paying. I don't care what a firefighter thinks he should be paid any more than I expect my company to care how much I think I should be paid. As a taxpayer footing the bill, I'll pay what the market says his services are worth.


Posted by Outsource already, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I have zero sympathy for the firefighters after their union insulted us with their self serving featherbedding ballot measure. Every tax dollar we waste could be used for infrastructure or something beneficial to the public. And paying six figure pensions from age 50-55 onward for non-hazardous (thanks Voter for the stats) is a colossal waste, as well as unfair to the next generation.

The sooner we outsource to the county or to a private operator, the better.


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Karen
"If I didn't add twice the value that an overseas worker adds at half the cost, I'd be gone or looking at a sharp pay decrease."

I seriously doubt that - any job can be done much cheaper by someone else.

If you were really focused on being productive you would not be spending your time at work typing messages to PA online.

BTW I am retired so I can waste time.


Posted by Outsource already, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Alphonso.

Your lucky Karen and others are able to make it in this cutthroat globalized economy, because makers such as she foot the bill for your beloved taker class. At least for a little longer.

You may wish the private sector would put its head down, pay the bills, and demand nothing in return, but those days are over. I'm a lifelong democrat who will never vote for any more revenue for the public sector ever until the union gouging is fixed.


Posted by Karen, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Keep in up Alphonso. Your smug entitlement is helping me win votes for Prop 32 with my mostly liberal co-workers.

And thanks for your concern re: my time management. I multitask just fine (it's a symptom of that productivity thing you seem to have an imperfect understanding of).


Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 23, 2012 at 2:41 pm

"Your smug entitlement is helping me win votes for Prop 32 with my mostly liberal co-workers."

And how is that? - are you wasting more time by trying to promote your ideas during work hours. BTW I am also against the state wide public service unions as well as superpac spending

The point of the article (in case you missed it) was all of the savings that have happened despite the Union - the Union was not the real problem anyway. The real problem was PA (and many other communities) elected officials who had no interest in looking at future impact of salary and benefit deals. Apparently that has changed and PA is doing things that will save substantial dollars. Between the Stanford contributions and the medical reimbursements PA is much better off than most Peninsula communities.