News

Palo Alto council lauds proposed fire changes

Consultants' report blasts management 'malaise' while acknowledging good service

Palo Alto City Council members Monday night praised a report by outside consultants that recommends sweeping changes to the city's fire department.

While noting that some of the recommendations -– such as merging two fire stations -- are controversial and will require further analysis and discussion, council members appeared anxious to adopt smaller reforms as quickly as possible.

City Manager James Keene said he would return to the council in "roughly a month with an action plan and a potential implementation schedule of the recommendations, some of which can be done immediately."

The 190-page report blasted the fire department for a "leadership malaise" and outmoded practices, while acknowledging that it provides a high quality of service to Palo Alto residents.

In particular, there is an absence of relevant data for decision-making and excessive reliance on overtime, said Thomas Wieczorek, director of ICMA Center for Public Safety Excellence of Washington, D.C. Wieczorek presented his recommendations along with Stephen Brezler of TriData Division of System Planning Corp., which co-authored the report.

"Training for captains is poor, expectations for officer performance is low … and planning is mostly non-existent," Wieczorek said.

"You've become just kind of an OK department -- not dynamic," he said.

"You've got access to resources most communities would die to have -- a learning institution, Facebook, Google -- in your back yard that could make you a leader, a high-performing, forward-thinking department, that you just haven't taken advantage of."

"Minimum staffing requirements" mandated under union contract have led to fire staff cuts in other areas, including a data-related position that could have supported more strategic management decisions, he said.

Although most of the department's activity now comprises emergency medical services (EMS), 75 percent of its effort is still directed at fire suppression, the consultants said.

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of total incidents increased 19 percent, from 6,207 to 7,366, while EMS calls grew by 48 percent, from 2,742 to 4,070, they said.

Facilities and equipment are managed haphazardly, not strategically, they said. For example, ambulances that should be replaced after four years are now 10 years old, and the stations at Rinconada and Mitchell parks need major upgrades.

And locations of life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) around the city are not tracked, so nobody knows where they are, they said.

The consultants recommend upper management changes, including creation of a "public safety director" position to oversee both police and fire operations. The fire chief position is currently vacant, and Police Chief Dennis Burns has been serving as the interim fire chief since last July.

Firefighters' Union President Tony Spitaleri told the council he thinks many of the 48 recommendations in the report are attainable, and that they "move in the right direction," adding the union also "might have some disagreements."

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said his agency would welcome opportunities to collaborate with Palo Alto. The Menlo fire district already serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and other portions of San Mateo County.

"The creek shouldn't be a moat between our two agencies -- it's not a bridge too far," Schapelhouman said.

Council members said they appreciated the consultants' focus on better use of data.

"A culture of continuous improvement, the thrust in data collection and measureable goals -- that's not only better for the organization, but will help members of the organization become enthused because they know they're improving," Council member Pat Burt said.

Burt and Council member Greg Scharff said they were troubled by the consultants' comments that barriers intended for traffic calming around the city "could severely impact your service level."

However, when asked to identify the specific locations of such barriers, the consultants were unable to do so.

Council member Greg Schmid questioned the logic of the recommendation to merge the Hanover Street and Arastradero Road fire stations into a new location at Arastradero and Hillview Avenue.

"Why did you pick that location? You can't even get to Barron Park from there," Schmid said.

Brezler said further study would be required before any final decision were made on a merger location.

Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said city staff members will meet again with firefighters before sorting the consultants' recommendations into three buckets: those already being implemented; those requiring union negotiations; and those calling for further discussion or possibly a "blue ribbon" commission.

"I want to be clear that public safety is in my view the No. 1 function of what city government provides, and we're not planning to do anything that would put our firefighters or public at risk," Mayor Sid Espinosa said.

"This is about making us more efficient while maintaining service."

Related article:

Merge Palo Alto fire stations, consultants say

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

Perfect, the City Council,(s) and City Manager'(s) have made cuts in the fire dept FOR YEARS, reduced staff regardless of the increase in emergency calls. THEN they seem surprised by the their own blue printed "study" that lists problems in the FD? classic!
The bottom line seems to be the Council and City Manager have an ax to grind with the fire dept, and want to gut the dept.
I like how the study glosses over the fact that the "study" list how much revenue the FD actualy brings in and also that Palo Alto is getting a basic emergency service at a cheaper rate that than other cities do.
It does not take a advanced degree in city managment to see that if you cut positions for years and don't replace emergency vehicles or equipment there might be some negative effects,
The study even lists the percentage increases for emergency calls over the years, name me one other non emergency response city department that has seen that amount of increase in service demand that has not seen an increase in dept size LET ALONE CUTS YEAR AFTER YEAR?
I notice the City Managers office and City Attorneys office has increased in size the last 10-15 years?


Like this comment
Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:53 am

Here are the published salaries (including overtime and cashouts) for the Palo Alto Fire Department for 2009:
---
Last Total
Deputy Fire Chief - EMT 293,730.15
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT 207,584.69
Fire Chief 193,929.79
Battalion Chief - Shift/E 184,058.82
Deputy Fire Chief - EMT 174,845.60
Battalion Chief - Shift/E 173,896.24
Fire Captain EMT 173,836.33
Fire Appratus Op EMT 172,122.16
Fire Captain EMT 170,917.30
Fire Captain EMT 170,226.99
Fire Captain EMT 166,766.16
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT 165,090.45
Fire Fighter EMT 163,024.48
Fire Captain EMT 159,427.53
Fire Captain EMT 157,044.36
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT 156,428.49
Fire Captain EMT 153,919.48
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 153,537.73
Fire Captain EMT 153,102.31
Fire Captain EMT 149,811.05
Fire Inspector EMT 149,589.69
Fire Captain EMT 147,504.51
Fire Captain EMT 145,872.06
Fire Inspector EMT 144,611.14
Fire Fighter EMT 142,039.10
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 138,917.76
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 138,757.96
Haz Mat Spec EMT 136,937.63
Fire Appratus Op EMT 136,720.78
Fire Captain EMT 135,636.52
Fire Appratus Op EMT 135,314.59
Fire Captain EMT 135,210.67
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 135,180.34
Fire Captain EMT 134,700.28
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 134,275.53
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 133,774.09
Fire Cap Haz Mat EMT 132,956.51
Fire Captain EMT 130,937.98
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 130,754.16
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 130,099.32
Fire Captain EMT 129,731.86
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 128,663.75
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT 128,303.99
OES Coordinator 128,273.47
Fire Captain EMT 127,865.16
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 126,273.26
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 126,105.47
Fire Captain EMT 125,219.99
Fire Captain EMT 124,047.29
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 123,858.66
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 123,635.16
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT 123,167.73
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 122,956.81
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 122,116.78
Fire Captain EMT 122,092.49
Fire Captain EMT 122,008.86
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 121,789.77
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 121,313.94
Fire Ap Op Hz Mt EMT 120,558.25
Hazmat Inspector 120,077.27
Fire Captain EMT 119,939.69
Fire Inspector EMT 119,757.82
Fire Appratus Op EMT 119,529.77
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 119,268.72
Fire Captain EMT 118,579.92
Fire Fighter EMT 118,361.62
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 118,146.59
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 116,971.67
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 115,910.05
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT 114,762.34
Fire Appratus Op EMT 114,706.69
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 114,014.31
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 113,783.60
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 113,168.75
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 112,921.57
Fire Captain EMT 112,699.18
Fire Fighter EMT 112,152.71
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 111,493.81
Hazmat Inspector 111,321.72
Emergency Medical Service 111,167.56
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 110,792.88
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 110,330.98
Fire Appratus Op EMT 110,022.16
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 109,534.88
Fire Fighter EMT 109,177.03
Fire Fighter EMT 109,115.78
Fire Fighter EMT 108,890.21
Fire Appratus Op EMT 108,587.68
40-Hr Trg Capt EMT 108,169.92
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 107,445.92
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 107,056.14
Fire Fighter EMT 106,720.64
Fire Fighter EMT 105,733.02
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 105,542.19
Fire Fighter EMT 105,515.43
Opr Prmdc-12.5 EMT 105,399.80
Fire Fighter EMT 104,282.15
Fire Appratus Op EMT 104,253.94
Fire Appratus Op EMT 104,047.24
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 103,542.16
Fire Appratus Op EMT 102,137.66
Fire Appratus Op EMT 102,006.11
Fire Fighter EMT 101,747.75
Fire Fighter EMT 101,126.05
Fire Fghtr Hz Mt EMT 100,731.36
Fire Fighter EMT 100,367.48
Fire Fighter EMT 100,289.78
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 100,104.50
Fire Fighter EMT 98,159.93
Fire Fighter EMT 96,925.97
Fire Fighter EMT 96,380.24
Fire Fighter EMT 93,237.16
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 93,155.30
Admin Assistant 85,499.67
Administrative Associate 62,796.82
Administrative Associate 61,529.42
Administrative Associate 60,767.31
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 57,339.19
Administrative Associate 55,851.20
Management Spec 54,825.00
Management Spec 36,234.00
F Fgh Prmdc-12.5 EMT 30,050.99
Management Spec 14,775.00
Management Spec 14,622.40
Management Spec 12,442.50
Technician I 10,970.45
Technician I 10,708.16
Technician I 9,013.35
Technician I 7,364.19
Technician I 7,171.20
Technician I 6,781.97
Technician I 6,185.16
Technician I 6,125.40
Technician I 5,542.74
Technician I 5,527.80
Technician I 5,408.28
Battalion Chief - Shift/E 2,578.80
Technician I 1,665.81
Technician I 1,589.91
Technician I 1,471.26
Management Spec 640
Technician I 616.98
---

The Fire Department hires an awful lot of people making more than 100K a year. Of the roughly 141 employees on the payroll (including people who retired that year), only a handful of "firefighters" are NOT making over $100K. These are jobs that do not require much in the way of higher education, as does the work in the private sector done by engineerings, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, geologists, etc. Yet, these highly unionized City employees are making more than people with multiple degrees who are the intellectual backbone of Silicon Valley.

Given that a fire truck costs in the range of $400K, it does not take much "eyeballing" the salaries (and don't forget than benefits run about 47% of salary in Palo Alto), so understand why equipment replacements have been deferred.

There is simply no way that any small city, like Palo Alto, can continue to pay the escalating demands of its public safety employees. These salaries (and benefit costs) are simply too high. Something needs to be done as quickly as possible.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

"Something needs to be done as quickly as possible."

+1; agree in full here.

Consolidation of PAFD with a local or adjacent agency or agencies seems wise and prudent; many other localities have done so. It's time the City took a very hard look at the PAFD; the current pay scale -- and staffing levels -- are out of kilter.

Please act with speed; time is wasting here.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Feb 8, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I am sure new fire trucks are loaded with new technology that can reduce the number of fire fighters required and are more efficient. We need to look at a multitude of solutions, staffing, salaries and benefits, and most importantly technology. We expected our fire department and the unions to have made such suggestions sooner rather than having these suggestions presented by a consultant.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

"Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said his agency would welcome opportunities to collaborate with Palo Alto. The Menlo fire district already serves Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and other portions of San Mateo County.

"The creek shouldn't be a moat between our two agencies -- it's not a bridge too far," Shapelhouman said."

I urge the Palo Alto City Manager, his staff, and the City Council to explore such opportunity soon.

An expansion of the current MP FPD to include Palo Alto may yield economies of scale and perhaps significant cost savings for Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm

JA3+,

I agree with you overall, that PA needs to make major changes to the way the city provides safety services. But I'm not sure MP is where I would look. Shapelhouman is way over compensated for his respinsibilities, the MP safety employees are suing the city for more pay when they are already over compensated, and the MP Fire Protection district just built a new fancy HQ on Middlefield. It appears to me that getting involved with this organization would be an expensive step in the wrong direction for PA. I believe regionalization and consolidation are good ideas, but PA needs to be careful who we partner with. Cal Fire appears to be a much better option.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm

jake,

For years the pafd has been a sinkhole in the City of PA budget, sucking up precious taxpayer resources. Instead of working with the citizens and other city employees to find solutions, the union battled with the city and tried to implement an even more ridiculous feather bedding employment scenario. By displaying such greed the union and union employees have lost the support of the citizens. The pafd employees have been under worked and over paid (by a factor or 2-3 times in comparison to the national average). The gravy train is ending. Now is the time for the city to:
1.) remove binding arbitration
2.) adjust salaries to the national average
3.) increase the retirement age to 62
4.) cap the retirement payouts to $50K per year and eliminate all the early disability gaming.

The city council will have the support of the citizens as these changes are implemented.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer2
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm

The $50K will NEVER happen because the city manager and others would have the same cap too.


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 8, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Jake has apparently not read the City Auditor's annual publication,
Service Efforts & Accomplishment.

For 2010:
Source of funding - 61% City's General Fund; Stanford/Slac 25%. Only 14% come from outside sources. No need to "gloss over".

Calls For Service: Fire, 182. Medical Rescue, 4,432. Total for all calls was 7.468; so Fire was 2.4% and Medical was 59.3% of this total. There is a serious misapplication of funds and effort in the Department.

Population served per fire station was 12,569. This was the fewest per city but Santa Clara with about 11,500. Mt. View was over 15,000 and Redwood City about 16,000 people per station.

The report showed a skewed application of FD resources to the older sections. This is understandable if no one paid attention to the growth in South Palo Alto and adjusted accordingly.

It is apparent there must be a serious rethinking of how to use our Fire Dept. dollars.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 8, 2011 at 6:08 pm

George, my guess is that Jake knows how to read. But he's hoping we all go to sleep again and let the safety employees go back to their old strategy of gaining excess compensation and avoiding work by using scare tactics. Not going to happen this time! Now is the time to fix the problems. I am so glad the majority of the city council in moving forward. This will likley be a bellwether issue that determines who will be elected to the council next time around. The candidates who rely on the unions to fund their campaigns, or the candidates who make the interests of the city their priority.


Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:07 pm

The seasonal fire station in Foothills Park (Staton-8) while having the lowest calls per district, has the most potential of a high cost incident. Granted, the department staffs this station in the highest expense they can, overtime. With the proposal to staff the hills on 'high fire danger days', the city will not be able to rely on Cal Fire or CDF to save the day with their engines, hand crews, helicopters and air tankers. The state is going through the same financial crisis, and I'm sure their availability for a quick response will be strained very soon, or they will be billing the city and shreading the threat zone agreements. Is the city council willing to take a gamble on having a wildland fire distroy a dozen or two homes, thousands of acres of park and open space land with hundreds of visitors and day camp kids there every week along with 95% of the city's drinking water?

Lease out the foothills fire station to Cal Fire or Santa Clara County Fire.


Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Feb 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Sounds like a shell game. The State wants to pull out of the foothill and pass the fire responsibility to the cities (like PA). Meanwhile PA wants to pull out of the foothills. Of course it is easier if you can find someone else to pay for the service.

Good luck to those of you who live up Page Mill Rd.


Like this comment
Posted by Matthew Perl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I couldn't disagree more with negative comments about the salaries of our firefighters. These men and women are willing to risk their lives every day to save our persons and our property. You cannot put a price on their heroism. Everyone should be proud to be able to support their efforts with a strong and well-deserved salary.


Like this comment
Posted by Carlito Ways
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm

To Matthew Perl: with all due respect, if you can bankroll on your own those firefighters salaries, please do so, and you can worship them all you want. Otherwise they are just Public Employees with bloated salaries and benefits whose scope of work includes protect human life and property. "These women and men are willing to risk their lives..." It comes with the job!!! Get it?


Like this comment
Posted by Ron
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 9, 2011 at 2:20 am

I am willing to bet that all of you anti PAFD folks would be very happy to see any of the PAFD crews be at your side within 5 minutes when you have a need for their services whether a health problem, accident or a house fire. I haven't seen any figures as to how many lives are saved annually. These firefighter EMTs are special trained professionals who deserve our gratitude for doing what they do. I can't recall when a house caught fire and the next door also caught fire. This is due to the quick responses of our PAFD. Thank you PAFD crews for 'being there'.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2011 at 10:01 am

"I believe regionalization and consolidation are good ideas, but PA needs to be careful who we partner with. Cal Fire appears to be a much better option."

Thanks, Taxpayer, for your comments here; interesting reading.

I'll be interested to see what the City manager, his staff, and the Council do here; it's great to see some significant effort expended here to reform the PAFD.


Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2011 at 10:04 am

"Now is the time for the city to:

1.) remove binding arbitration

2.) adjust salaries to the national average

3.) increase the retirement age to 62

4.) cap the retirement payouts to $50K per year and eliminate all the early disability gaming."

A very good start! I sincerely hope the Council devotes serious effort here; the work needed to significantly change the FD is time well-spent, I believe.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District has a balanced budget, significant reserves, the lowest unfunded pension liabilities of any local agency and a national reputation for excellence. Sharing of services such as training, prevention and fire marshall between PAFD and MPFPD would do something rare for government - improve the outcome AND lower the cost.


Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 9, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Too funny! City council and city manager praise fire report, well jeez no wonder, they wrote in the contract what they wanted the outside consulatant to find in their study. They fired the orginal outside consultant because they proclaimed it "MIGHT" be biased and then provide their own biased report. Oh well! Gotta love the poster who thinks we should know fire personel salaries and wastes half a page to post them. Yeah, we read the Dave Price Post too, no need to waste your time. By the way, management specialists are outside contractors hired by the city manager. Wonder why he didn't provide city managers salary with bonus of a $2,000,000 house needing a $50,000+ kitchen remodel and property taxes all paid by local taxpayers. Maybe Keene will be on the scene to provide fire or EMT services when needed huh?


Like this comment
Posted by Get a life
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 9, 2011 at 6:29 pm

You can continue to gut their department, you can take away their benefits, you can take away their pensions, you can take away their pay, but you will NEVER take away the honor of their profession, EVER!!!!


Like this comment
Posted by Dyann
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 10, 2011 at 7:26 am

You all REALLY think those salaries are inflated? In the area which we live, and the cost of living? Do you know how many PAFD members can actually afford to live within the city they work? These people work 24 hour shifts, away from their families, to protect you and yours. They may not have degrees from Stanford, but they do continue to train in new fire suppression techniques and medical procedures to keep you safe. Why do you want to blame the front line people when this is so obviously an issue of poor management from above?

"It comes with the job" - a job YOU are not chosing to do, so why not be grateful for those who do?


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

Yes, I really think those salaries are excessive. There are dozens of qualified applicants for every fire safety employee job opening. The reason for the high number of applicants is that the pay, benefits, and working hours are high relative to the market, and the qualifications to become a fire safety employee are easily met. The compensation should be adjusted to the market rate.

There are many other areas to be addressed including focusing on where the incidents are (medical emergencies), instead of fires (which are rare in PA). We also need to address the workload issue. We don't need 30+ union employees sleeping in the stations every night. There should be a regional approach where you have the staffing available to address the regional needs. The safety employees should be working, not sleeping. If it becomes a busy night, have an on-call policy so that additional resources can be brought in.

"Get a Life" ... you posted "You can continue to gut their department, you can take away their benefits, you can take away their pensions, you can take away their pay, but you will NEVER take away the honor of their profession, EVER!!!!

This is typical union BS. Nobody has proposed gutting or taking away anything. We are discussing bringing the excessive compensation of a few employees back in to line with established metrics like the national averages. The PA safety employees took a big hit to their reputation when they decided to follow the instructions of their union boss and waste taxpayer time and money on a feather bedding initiative. If they truly had self respect they wouldn't have been chasing down old ladies in the Safeway parking lot and trying to scare them in to voting for the feather bedding.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 10, 2011 at 10:21 am

Taxpayer states:"If it becomes a busy night, have an on-call policy so that additional resources can be brought in."

We all need to recognize that since most Bay Area firefighters work 48 to 72 hour shifts that they have chosen to live some distance away. Most Bay Area firefighters do not live in the Bay Area and some even live out of state and at least one lives out of the country.


Like this comment
Posted by south PA Mom
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2011 at 11:56 am

I think national averages are irrelevant to this discussion. Bay Area averages are more important. Local cost of living is higher. I'm a taxpayer, but I want competent firefighters in our community. Let's look at the averages of nearby communities, and make sure we are paying a fair but reasonably competitive salary.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 10, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Since most of the firefighters don't even live in the Bay Area why are Bay Area cost of living averages even relevant?

And what happens when there is a big earthquake and the 2/3 of the firefighters who are off duty are unable to even get here to help?


Like this comment
Posted by Alisa
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm

25% cut in pay right now. Believe me, when you have 100's applying for 5-8 openings in the Fire Department, you when find some smart people to do the job for less pay and benefits. Folks, this is not rocket science.
I know of two Firefighters that both have no college degree and are making $140K per year with only working about 12 to 13 days a month.
And please don't tell me about the 24 hours days they work...they both brag about how they sleep all night.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm

It is useful to put the firefighters'pay into perspective.

Wikipedia states "According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the city was $119,046, and the median income for a family was $153,197.[14] Males had a median income of $91,051 versus $60,202 for females. The per capita income for the city was $56,257."

Given that most of the firefighters do not live in the Bay Area and that they are being paid well above the per capita local income and above the median income for males in Palo Alto and even above the median income for a household in Palo Alto, and that there are so many applicants for every open firefighter position it appears that the current pay scale is unjustifiable.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:06 pm

The salaries posted by just-say-no are definitely NOT regular wages. Those numbers are wages plus overtime...most of the overtime is mandated by council driven programs and keep in mind oftentimes firefighters are not allowed to go home after their regular shifts and are forced to stay and cover overtime shifts. The consultant warned against merging with a department who needs you more than you need them (Menlo Park). Menlo would love the merge as their units are constantly being "sucked" up into Northern San Mateo county due to unique coverage arrangements in that county. The consultant warned of the huge "sucking" sound we would hear as PA units would be constantly drawn away from town to cover the needs of the district merged with. He warned of a great decrease of coverage in that scenario. And by the way George, Stanford IS an outside source of revenue. Be fair...no other fire department in California has as much of its budget covered by outside sources as Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm

MPFPD currently provides twice as much mutual aid to Palo Alto as Palo Alto provides to MPFPD. And yet MPFPD is urging PAFD to enter into an auto aid agreement which would probably mean even more support by MPFPD to Palo Alto than the reverse.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

The reason that firefighters make such large salaries is due to the fact that cities continue to diminish staffing levels and pay overtime rather than hire and pay straight time salaries.

Why is it that Firefighters and Police Officers seem to be the only individuals that are taking wage decreases/ freezes while the rest of government officials seem to be exempt. For example, City Managers, City Attorney, Director of Admin, City Auditor, Director of Human Resources, Management Spec, Senior Project Managers, Sr. Assistant City Managers and Library Directors are just a few of the other top earners in the city that could take a pay cut and start saving cities some money. Maybe these departments should be consolidated, rather than seeing our fire houses shut down and response times diminished.
These positions alone cost the city $1,666,109 dollars in 2009. If each of these positions took a 20% cut in pay the city could save over a quarter million a year.

In conclusion, staffing levels on engine and truck companies are set for s specific reason and cannot be reduced because you need at minimum 3 firefighters to go into a burning building. Onne at the pump panel and two on the hoseline. It is dangerous and impossible for two firefighters to do this job with out being hurt.


Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2011 at 6:30 am

Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, Foster City & San Mateo are looking at outsourcing out to Cal Fire their Fire Departments. They currently spend a combined $42.2 million, and by outsourcing to Cal Fire, the combined cost would drop to $25.4 million. Cal Fire personnel work 72 hours/week vs 56 hours/week for the city fire deparment, and their salaries are much lower. Here's the article:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:29 am

It is almost a no brainer that PA and other peninsula cities should outsource to Cal Fire. The cost to each city would roughly be cut in half. Think of all the $'s available for parks, libraries, infrastructure etc. Instead of funding sleeping union employees with a high school education who pout when they are only making $150K a year, we will get employees who appreciate their job. You have to wonder how happy the union employees are now, after they allowed their union boss to get them in to this situation.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 9:10 am

I firmly believe in wide area consolidation of fire services but CalFire is not the way to go. The best models are SacMetro and Orange County. Cal Fire is great at what is its primary mission - wildland fire suppression - but it has very limited expertise in structural fire and emergency medical response. Knowing this the Governor is proposing to actually withdraw Cal Fire from providing fire services to areas in the so-called wildland urban interface and shifting that responsibility to local urban fire agencies.

Consolidation is the best anser but it needs to be based on the core competencies of the urban firefighting agencies.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 10:53 am

CalFire's primary mission is wildland fire suppression but they have expertise in all areas of fire safety and emergency services. They would be a step up in quality of service provided, compared to any peninsula fire dept. And the cost would be approximately 50% of what the city's are currently paying.

The reason Brown is going to try to prevent CalFire from providing more services to urban areas is that his primary support base is unions. The unions don't want to give up their excessive compensation and Brown doesn't want to alienate his core supporters.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:16 am

Taxpayer claims that Cal Fire "They would be a step up in quality of service provided, compared to any peninsula fire dept."

I heartily disagree - I challenge you to show any area of urban fire fighting, emergency medical response or urban search and rescue where Cal Fire can, to use a pun, hold a candle to the world renowned Menlo Park Fire Protection District and its nationally recognized Urban Search And Rescue Task Force.

When it comes to emergency services the citizen want quality at the best price. Build on core competency not on the cheapest price.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:29 am

Facts are always useful in a discussion like this:

Here is the Sac Metro Fire story:

On December 1, 2000, two local fire districts came together and formed the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District. From public education and training to firefighting, emergency services, search and rescue and more, your Metro Fire professionals stand ready to serve the greater Sacramento region. We invite you to visit this site often and let us know what we can do to improve our partnerships with you, our community.

The highly skilled firefighters and support personnel of Metro Fire serve nearly 640,000 citizens over a 417-square-mile area, serving Sacramento & Placer counties including the City of Citrus Heights and the City of Rancho Cordova.

Historically, Metro Fire represents 16 former fire agencies, some of which were founded more than six decades ago. Today, Metro Fire is the seventh-largest fire district in California with 42 strategically located fire stations.

Thanks to fire district consolidations, we are more effective than ever. We operate a central 911 dispatch center and a unified communications system that keeps all our fire companies informed and connected. Mergers have also enhanced the consistency of our training and operations, helping us maintain our reputation as a respected leader in firefighting and emergency services.

Here is the Orange County Fire Authority story:

Prior to May, 1980, fire service for the cities of Cypress, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Placentia, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda along with the County unincorporated areas was provided by the California Department of Forestry (CDF)*. However, on May 16, 1980, the Orange County Fire Department (OCFD) was formed as a county department reporting to the Board of Supervisors. It's first Fire Chief was Larry Holmes. Fifty-two percent of the 518,483 residents served by the OCFD lived in unincorporated areas of the County.

However, over the course of the next decade, five new cities were formed from unincorporated territory and two additional cities decided to contract with OCFD for fire service. As a result, by January 1, 1991, over 80% of OCFD's service population of 808,139 lived within these sixteen cities. Yet their fire service was still governed by the Board of Supervisors. The cities wanted greater input into how their emergency services were provided. Clearly a new form of governance was needed for these new circumstances.

During 1991, the OCFD was on its way exploring the possibility of forming a special district as an independent entity governed by a board of directors representing the member cities and the County. The California Government Code dealing with special districts was studied, other fire protection districts were contacted, and services the new agency would need to provide were identified (i.e. investment services, employee benefits, payroll, and purchasing). Discussions had begun with the County about transferring title of the fire stations to the new organization. However, although a great deal of enthusiasm and effort was poured into this project, unforeseen difficulties prevented the formation of a special district.

Nevertheless, the dream did not die and the momentum was soon recaptured. A new governance structure, a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), was selected. Much of the previous work was used in this endeavor. By 1994 the plans and structure of the new agency were well underway. The County Board of Supervisors, the various City Councils, the OCFD labor groups, and management were all pulling together to launch the new JPA. Then on December 6, 1994, the County of Orange declared bankruptcy. Yet, inspite of this almost insurmountable obstacle, the dreams and plans were brought to fruition and the Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA), under Interim Fire Chief Ken Mcleod, was formed on March 1, 1995. The County bankruptcy, which was merely coincidental to the JPA formation, had not derailed the efforts.

Since then, the OCFA has continued to grow. Three more cities contracted with the OCFA for service and three new cities incorporated. The helicopter program was begun in 1995 and in 1997 Chip Prather was appointed the new Fire Chief. The move to the recently completed Regional Fire and Operations Training Center (RFOTC) finished in May of 2004 and in 2009 Keith Richter became the OCFA's third Fire Chief.

* - In 1980, the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Newport Beach, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster had their own municipal fire departments. Since then, Buena Park, San Clemente, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster joined the OCFD/OCFA.


Here is the San Francisco Fire Department story:

Established in 1866, the San Francisco Fire Department is rich in tradition and history. From the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 to the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989, the Department has grown to meet the many challenges along the way. Today, the San Francisco Fire Department serves an estimated 1.5 million people, providing fire suppression and emergency medical services to the residents, visitors and workers within San Francisco's 49 square miles.

To find out more about the San Francisco Fire Department, we invite you to explore our website. Here you will find information links to learn about our history, outlines of the Department's organization and operations, information about the programs and services we offer to the public and highlights of the Department's many achievements.

SFFD Emergency Medical Services

The San Francisco Fire Department is a permitted ambulance provider in the City and County of San Francisco, dedicated to providing excellent EMS care for the full spectrum of medical emergencies. The Department follows the local ambulance ordinance and adheres to the policies and protocols for pre-hospital care set by the San Francisco Emergency Medical Services Agency (SF EMSA). All Department paramedics and firefighter/paramedics are licensed by the State of California EMS Authority and accredited with SF EMSA. All emergency medical technicians and firefighter/EMTs are certified with SF EMSA. All accreditation, certification and licensing is in accordance with Division 2.5 of the Health and Safety Code, the California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 9, and SF EMSA policies 2040 and 2050.
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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

Peter Carpenter states "I heartily disagree - I challenge you to show any area of urban fire fighting, emergency medical response or urban search and rescue where Cal Fire can, to use a pun, hold a candle to the world renowned Menlo Park Fire Protection District and its nationally recognized Urban Search And Rescue Task Force.

When it comes to emergency services the citizen want quality at the best price. Build on core competency not on the cheapest price."

I realize you are on the board of the MPFPD and would like to see them become the core of a regional fire service. But it is not going to happen. In no area are they as capable as Cal Fire, and even if they were close, taxpayers do not want to pay 200% for a service. The MPFPD has major labor issues with a disgruntled and overpaid union. The union employees were recently granted a $1,500 payment per month just to appease them. This is more than some folks take home in a month. The MPFPD just built a palatial HQ on Middlefield Rd. they are another organization that wates tax payer $'s. The citizens receiving service from the MPFPD are paying dearly for a commodity service. I would strongly encourage peninsula cities to find more cost effective solutions than the MPFPD


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 11:47 am

Taxpayer - lots of assertions but no facts.
I am not proposing that MPFPD become the core of a regional agency but rather that the core be all those agencies that have demonstrated expertise in structural firefighting, emergency medical response and urban search and rescue - Cal Fire has very little expertise in these areas. I speak as a former wildland firefighter (smokejumper US Forest Service), urban firefighter (Northern Florida) and with nine years of experience as a Director of MPFPD (but here I am speaking for myself and not for the Board or the Fire District).

Neither Sac Metro, Orange County or SFFD were built around a wildland firefighting core.

Your other assertions are simply wrong - the $1500 payment you allude is a cap not a fixed amount and it has not yet been approved and will only be voted on by the Board after the public has had 15 days to review and comment on the proposal.

As for the new administrative building - that was a bargain for the district which has seen the population it serves grow by over 20% without any increase in our stations or station size. Building new or enlarging existing fire stations is very expensive. So the Fire District bought an administrative building, in a depressed market at a bargain price, and moved its administrative functions thereby freeing up a large amount of existing space in Station 1 for operational purposes.

Facts and homework are important to an honest discussion. You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to make up your own facts.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Peter, I appreciate your work on open government and believe you believe you have the right intentions. But we disagree on a very basic premise. I believe Cal Fire would provide the same or higher level of service for 50% of the cost. You have shown no facts to contradict my belief, only your opinion the MPFPD has a good reputation.

The $1.5K payment on the table to give MP safety staff is not a good use of taxpayer money. They are already over paid. Why would you allow a discussion involving increasing their compensation.

The MP union is suing the district in an attempt to get even more compensation. In the interst of the citizens of MP the board should be looking in to contracting with Cal Fire instead of continuing to cater to the union. It is this catering and unwillingness to say no to the unions that has gotten taxpayers in to this situation.

I looked in to purchasing the building on Middlefield for my own business. The price was out of line with the market. Not only did the district buy the building, but they completely gutted and then refurbished it. They should have moved their offices in to the Station a few doors away. There is plenty of space on that piece of land. Buying and refurbishing that building was a waste of taxpayer money. You may disagree but it is only your opinion.

The bottom line fact is that MPFPD district costs approximately double what the citizens should be paying (compared to the level services that would be provided by Cal Fire). To continue to promote MPFPD when most cost effective solutions are available is poor judgment.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Taxpayer - please reread my posting. The admin office WERE in Station 1 and they were moved OUT to free up space for operational uses. It is impossible to move to move something to where it already is. The outside space behind station 1 is fully dedicated to training purposes. When the District explore acquiring additional land from the seminary to expand the Station 1 site the neighbors on the adjacent street objected to any new buildings so we elected to move into an existing building that was already zoned for offices.

And please acknowledge that Cal Fire has very limited expertise and capability when it comes to structural firefighting (for example, they don't own a single ladder truck) and urban search and rescue and very little EMS capability.


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Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Peter, sorry for the delayed response. Long day.

Regarding the Middlefiled building, I don't believe the expenditure was a good use of taxpayer money. If I was a MPFPD taxpayer, I would object to the extravagant spending (especially the lavish refurbishment). I would have preferred that the organization contain their costs and stay in the existing building. If additional space was needed, build up on the existing stucture.

Regarding Cal Fire and equipment, Cal Fire often uses the trucks of the existing organization when they take an outsourcing agreement. They would do this with PA or MP. Fire fighting is not rocket science. It is a pretty basic service that does not require the years of education and training that many careers do.

My primary issue is with the excessive cost of peninsula safety depts. Compensation is 2-3 times what the market currently requires for satety employees. It would be a poor choice for PA to consider merging with MP given the excessive compensation and minimal hours put in by MPFPD (not to mention the union lawsuit etc). Much better to outsource to Cal Fire to benefit from the lower cost, while more efficient alternatives long term strategies are worked on.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 11, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Taxpayer has made his case and I have made mine.

The readers get to decide if they want to accept the opinions of someone who is a known person, who has wildland and urban firefighting experience, years of very successful experience in the private sector and who has accepted and learned from the responsibility of serving on a fire service fire board or the opinions from an anonymous poster with no apparent qualifications.

I am also a taxpayer.


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Posted by Dr.D.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

To Peter Carpenter,
If you read this you should know that what you say about Cal Fire's firefighting experience is completely inaccurate. Cal Fire( California Dept of Forestry and Fire Protection) is one of the most advanced fire agencies in the nation. Not just in wildland firefighting but also in residential/ commercial/urban search and rescue and ems. Oh, do you not know that San Bernardino County Fire, san Diego County Fire, Riverside County Fire, Napa County Fire, South County Fire( near Morgan Hill) San Mateo County Fire and Oh yes Orange County Fire was also a State Dept before they decided to go on their own. These other county fire depts. are larger and even better then our local small city fire departments. They have fire engines, paramedic ambulances, rescue fire vehicles, helicopters, and who yes......even ladder trucks!!!.
Before you open the mouth to produce sound first engage the brain to confirm you have knowledge cells to share. The cost of doing business is also the cost of competing for the best experience and leadership. This costs money. Good employees who risk their lives and do get injured deserve top notch pay and benifits.Your fine fire dept. appears to have it's own issues with the lack of support from the firefighters to supporting their fire chief. Could it be that he babbles to much in front of the Media? But then again it's all about the "hot air" that comes from the mouth. That goes for all the other whiners who are complaining. If you do not like to pay the better salary then try and do the firefighters job on your own for awhile or move to the desert where not to much will burn.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 13, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Dr.? D states:'These other county fire depts. are larger and even better then our local small city fire departments. They have fire engines, paramedic ambulances, rescue fire vehicles, helicopters, and who yes......even ladder trucks!!!."

Precisely and NONE of these fire agencies are run by Cal Fire.

I have long be a proponent of large scale fire and emergency service consolidation.

PS. Dr.? S. - Which fire agencies have you worked for or directed?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 13, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Readers should that San Bernardino County Fire, san Diego County Fire, Riverside County Fire, Napa County Fire, South County Fire( near Morgan Hill) San Mateo County Fire are merged with larger urban fire agencies to form consolidated fire agencies - thereby getting the best of both the wildland experience and the urban fire fighting experience.

With regard to Orange County (as noted in from my earlier posts on this thread) - prior to May, 1980, fire service for the cities of Cypress, Irvine, La Palma, Los Alamitos, Placentia, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, Villa Park, and Yorba Linda along with the County unincorporated areas was provided by the California Department of Forestry (CDF)*. However, on May 16, 1980, the Orange County Fire Department (OCFD) was formed as a county department reporting to the Board of Supervisors. In 1980, the cities of Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, La Habra, Newport Beach, Orange, San Clemente, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster had their own municipal fire departments. Since then, Buena Park, San Clemente, Seal Beach, Stanton, and Westminster joined the OCFD/OCFA.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 13, 2011 at 5:09 pm

Facts are very useful when having a rational discussion. As I have stated, I fully support wide area fire agency consolidations. The small fire agencies that we have in Palo Alto, Menlo Park Fire Protection District (Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and parts of the county) simply are not cost effective. Fire and emergency medical services are one area of public service where we can BOTH improve the service levels and decrease costs by wise and well planned consolidations.

Look at the cost per capita of the consolidated agencies I have mentioned above:


Orange County Fire

The Orange County Fire Authority is a regional fire service agency that serves 22 cities in Orange County and all unincorporated areas. The OCFA protects over 1,400,000 residents from its 61 fire stations located throughout Orange County. OCFA Reserve Firefighters work 10 stations throughout Orange County.

$263,952,650 (09/10)
$188 per capita


SacMetro
Serves nearly 640,000 citizens over a 417-square-mile area, serving Sacramento & Placer counties including the City of Citrus Heights and the City of Rancho Cordova.

Historically, Metro Fire represents 16 former fire agencies, some of which were founded more than six decades ago. Today, Metro Fire is the seventh-largest fire district in California with 42 strategically located fire stations.

$148,269,642 total expenses
= $231 per capita


And now compare that to our two local fire agencies:

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District was formed in
1916 and provides emergency services for approximately 95,000 people in the communities of Atherton, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park,
and adjacent unincorporated Areas of San Mateo County.

$31,006,800 for 95,000 people
=$326 per capita


Palo Alto Fire
The City of Palo Alto Fire Department provides services to a resident population of 75,000.

$27,007,000 proposed 10/11 – this is without any overhead calculation for the City manager office, City Council and without any real estate cost.

$360 per capita

The ONLY obstacles to fire service consolidation are local elected officials and managers - even the firefighters support such consolidations because it will mean better training, better opportunities for advancement and better response times.


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Posted by Dr.D.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Mr. Carpenter,
San Bernardino County Fire, Riversisde County Fire, San Diego County Fire, Napa County Fire, South County Fire and San Mateo County Fire ARE ALL Cal Fire. They are run by and staffed by Cal Firefighters. The Counties contract with the State and negotiate what each side will pay for equipment and maintenance, building maintenance and salaries are set as the same for all Cal Firefighters.These firefighters are also part of the same union, The International Asociation of Firefighters. Also, Fresno County, Tulare County, and many other counties also contract with Cal Fire under the Specific County Name. Each of these fire agencies contracts with Cal Fire. If you don't know that, then you should call Cal Fire in Sacramento. And yes I am retired from Cal Fire due to a disability injury years ago and I did work in San Diego County and Riverside County Fire Depts. and who went on to become a Doctor but who still loves the fire service.Please GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.
For anyone else out there, if you care or are concerned then you owe yourself to talk with the Fire Chief and the union president of your own fire dept and then talk with the city councils so that you hear both sides of the issues. Not just one side but both. Only if you care though. Have a nice day.


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Posted by Enough
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 14, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Hey Mr. Menlo Park, How much revenue does your fire dept. take in? In Palo Alto they have Paramedic transport revenue, Stanford Contract revenue, Haz-Mat Inspection revenue.....the list goes on. After you factor in the return of $$$$ to the General Fund. Palo Alto Fire Dept. is an excellent investment/service provider for the citizens of Palo Alto....


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Feb 15, 2011 at 6:08 am

Dr.D states:"San Bernardino County Fire, Riversisde County Fire, San Diego County Fire, Napa County Fire, South County Fire and San Mateo County Fire ARE ALL Cal Fire."
Note that these are ALL COUNTY, i.e. rural, jurisdictions not cities like Palo Alto. Those are straight facts.

Enough - PAFD does generate some revenue but it does not pay the cost of its facilities or of the City overhead - it is probably a wash.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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