FBI clears 'suspicious letter' sent to VA Tuesday

Tests find no 'biological agent,' building re-opened

Chemical tests came back negative Wednesday (Feb. 16) on contents of a 'suspicious letter' that caused evacuation of an office building Tuesday (Feb. 15) at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

Although the VA employee who opened the envelope described a "gritty, musty-smelling" substance inside, a VA spokeswoman said FBI agents found nothing except a letter.

Officers from the Palo Alto Fire Department and its hazardous-materials team taped off an area surrounding the VA's Building 6 Tuesday, after the employee reported feeling ill upon opening the suspicious envelope. Several hours later, FBI agents arrived and removed the substance for testing. A U.S. Postal Service inspector also was on the scene.

The employee sought treatment in the VA's emergency room after saying he had felt an unusual substance on his hands when opening the envelope, VA spokeswoman Kerri Childress said.

The first floor of building No. 6 at 3801 Miranda Ave. -- housing staff members who work in human resources, contracting and logistics -- was evacuated, and all air vents were turned off, Childress said. Fire personnel temporarily isolated employees on other floors, and 100 workers left the building.

No patients are housed in building No. 6 and there is no connection to patient-care areas, she said.

By 2:52 p.m., at least three people had gone through a decontamination process and were being escorted to the emergency room to have their vital signs checked, an emergency responder said.

By 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, at least seven others had been decontaminated.

The section of building No. 6 where the letter was handled has been re-opened after having been sealed off pending results from the FBI, Childress said Wednesday.

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Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Feb 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm

first!!!My wife was one of the people evacuated, but she didn't get any real information other than suspicious package.

Like this comment
Posted by Gee Whiz....
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Pay Attention James Keane!

Aren't these the some of the firefighters and equipment, you and "your study" want to cut.

Keep away from Barron Park and the Stanford Industrial Park!

Why not close Fire Station One at Alma and Everett and contract for services with Menlo Park!

Oops, wait a minute, what about the HUGE Stanford Hospital and Stanford University expansions? Isn't Stanford a major PARTNER in our local Emergency Services?

Oops, wait two minutes, IN CALIFORNIA, Fire and Emergency Services are organized by COUNTY! Isn't Menlo Park in San Mateo County? I guess that's why when Palo or Stanford needs an additional AMBULANCE, the ambulances come from Santa Clara County!

Gee, didn't James Keane really do a great job of hiring a consultant to effectively assess our local fire department.

Please.... Let's hire a consultant and evaluate our City Manager and City Council.

Wait a minute, why not just cut all of our "traffic mitigation plans and projects." Then after our fire department is gutted, the PANDAS oops CERT volunteers will be able to quickly assist the VA Hospital and Stanford Hospital in times of need!

Do the CERTS have any hazardous materials training?

Go Jim Keane; go back to Berkeley! Might we be able to contract out our City Manager's Office? Maybe we can get Mountain View to bid on supplying us with a City Manager. Kevin Duggan is much more effective! Kevin is most likely too smart to want to get involved in Palo Alto!

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Feb 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I think it's a very interesting point that the study wanted to pull the Hazmat unit. Apart from unusual situations like this, there is a surprisingly large number of businesses in the Palo Alto area that utilize hazardous chemicals, particularly in the high-tech industry.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Lets not forget that the same Rescue unit out of the fire hall on Hanover has other very important functions, R2 also is the team that does search's for people at fires, extricates people from wrecked vehicles. They have specialized tools and equipment and have a primary role of saving human life. No water, hose or ladder. They exist to provide a primary function at emergencies.
What does the Assistant City Manager do?

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Seems crazy that the City wants to shutdown a Rescue Unit and at the same time hire a staff and director to take over and run the Palo Alto Airport from the County.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2011 at 8:48 am

Restructuring and reorganizing the pafd to become an efficient, cost effective organization is what the city manager is working on. The citizens are behind him. We realize the union would prefer to have 30+ union folks sleeping away every night, making $150K, hanging out at Peet's or Safeway. But it is time for a change.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:34 am


You obviously have no idea what you continue to rant about, you have no idea what firefighter/paramedics acualy do during their tours of duty. Unless you have worked for a fire dept in a urb/burb enviroment your just assuming what they do.
THE FACTS ARE, the PAFD is smaller than it was 40 years ago in Palo Alto and today they are responding to thousands of more calls every year.
The recent "study" by ICMA "city managers" is calling for fire hall closures. When measure R was being debated the NO on R folks kept saying the firefighters were alarming people because "nobody is calling for fire hall closures" well guess what? fast forward. Closing stations and reducing emergency workers is exactly what the City Manager wants to do now. Where is ex Council member Wheeler now?
The facts will show that many other depts in the City including the City Managers office and City Attorneys office saw record growth and added employees during the 1990's and 2000's! How does anyone justify that growth?
You keep calling for paying workers in this area the "national average" that clearly shows you are out of touch with reality. Nobody or no industry in the bay area pays the national average. You can't even run a fast food place by paying a worker in Mtn View or PA the national average for flipping burgers.
Are you working 60+ hour weeks? up at 1,3,5, AM responding to emergencies and treating injured people? getting spit, puked, punched? exposed to toxic chemicals? Hep, HIV,TB,etc? carrying 300lb+ people down flights of stairs after they have a heart attack?
going without rest or sleep for 24-36 hours on a regular basis?
Unless you have actualy walked in another workers shoes or have done what they do under the same conditions you have no educated idea.

Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:25 am

Jake, you can keep on whining but change is coming. My guess is you are sitting around the station right now with nothing to do. Probably woke up a bit ago from a restful night of sleep. All while on the pafd payroll.

Measure R was about a militant union trying to impose a feather bedding contract on the city. It was soundly defeated by the voters. Possibly even more important than defeating the feather bedding initiative, the voters now understand what they are dealing with. A bunch of non PA residents being led by a union boss, trying to scare citizens in to an even more wasteful contract.

If you don't like it, go find another job. My guess is that you couldn't find another job for 50% of the $'s PA is giving you. When dozens of folks are applying for every opening, the market is out of balance.

You know that there are very few fires in Palo Alto. The department needs to be reorganized to mee the demands of todays's emergencies. PA should consider contracting with Cal Fire. The labor costs would be approx 50% as much for the same level of service.

A few other items on the list of to do's:
1.) eliminate binding arbitration
2.) make retirement age 62 amd eliminate all the disability games ff's play. if they want to quit early fine but should not retiremtn pay until they are 62 (at the earliest). if they haven't saved enough they can find other work till they turn 62.
3.) cap annual retirement pay at $50K per year.

These changes are long over due. The silver lining of Measure R was that the taxpayers now understand the problems that need to be corrected with the pafd.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm

"Taxpayer" Where do you get your information? obviously from nowhere credible. Again you make personal attacks about people you don't work with in a profession you know little if nothing about. "contracting with CalFire for same level of service"? "50% as much"? First off it would not be the same level of service, I have seen no proposal from CalFire for one so YOU have nothing to draw your "facts" from. CalFire does an excellent job at what they do but they are not a city, urban or suburban fire/ems service organization.
Why should I "go find another job"? because you say I should? Why? I don't like your "changes"? Taxpayer, you don't make changes! you make uninformed comments about a profession you know nothing about.
Where did you draw your obviously biased views about firefighters from? Leave it to Beaver maybe? Gus at the fire hall looked to be about 60-70 years old.
I'm also in support about putting anyone in jail who practices workers comp fraud, I don't care what profession they are in. A crime is a crime, those who rip off workers comp insurance hurt those with real job related ill's. There are way more non firefighters filing false claims than firefighters.
Since you advocate firefighters working into their sixties do you have any data to support why that would be a good idea? any data on increased death or injury rates possibly? I guess 30-35+ of 60 hour weeks is not good enough for you. Do you feel the military should also start making those in uniform serve until they are in their sixties as well?
The number of applicants has nothing to do with who is actualy able to get hired, very few actualy are capable of getting hired. The 21 and a pulse min requirement many cities have does not reflect the fact that people may apply and meet the almost zero requirement HR puts in place. The people who actualy get hired have been preparing for years, degrees, paramedic school, college, etc. Then come the tests! few pass the tests! if they make it through that then they might not pass background screening.
The actual number of people who make it to the list of those who can possibly go forward is SMALL!
If they opened up the NFL to 21 and HS grad I'm sure they would get millions of applicants! but who is actualy capable of making it in the NFL out of those numbers? Using that logic should we pay everyone based on the number of people who apply for the job? or should people be paid using actual logic?
I'm sorry if your girlfriend or wife ran off with an emergency worker or if you couldnt make the grade.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm

How silly to see Jake comparing ff's to NFL players or military folks. NFL players are elite, world class athletes. Some ff's are athletic. Most are just ordinary folks. Many are over weight and out of shape. The comparison to the military is an insult to our armed forces. Soldiers, sailors, marines, airforce are getting shot at, while protecting our country. Bus drivers, farmers, have higher injury rates than ff's. You guys need to get over yourselves and accept that you are ridiculously over compensated.

Do the math. Cal fire works 72 hours shifts to your 56 hours. So just on hours you are 29% more expensive. Cal Fire averages $55K to your $80K. So in just $s you are 48% costlier. Not ot mention the O/T we would avoid by using Cal Fire.

Instead of comparing yor self to NFL players or soldiers, a better comparison would be to truck drivers, or EMTs, or sanitation workers. Your annual pay should be in the $60K range.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 8:33 pm

"resident" many Firefighters were in the military. Some still are and are deployed as we speak. You have no idea what you are talking about. I respect every member of the armed forces, they actualy risk something. The truth is the majority of those in the military are supporting those in the field in some way or form. Just as important! so don't get me wrong. Every member is serving a roll that is needed. The person doing mapping in Virginia for the unit in a middle east mountain pass is doing a vital job that may result in lives lost and keep our soldiers safe and effective. But the truth is the soldier in Virgina may have a skill that keeps them out of the field. Safe for sure but just as important as the field soldier. Not everyone in the military is risking their life, everyone can't be in the field and it takes many people behind the lines to keep a soldier in the field.
I noticed you compare firefighters and paramedics to sanitation workers and truck drivers? is that a judgment by you that removing garbage requires the same education, skills, dedication, training as providing emergency medical care and saving property and life? Don't get me wrong, the world would be disease ridden and smelly to say the least if there were not people willing to be sanitation workers. I hate to break it to you but my neighbor works in the sanitation industry and they make more than a firefighter. Less hours and holidays off too! I don't hold it against sanitation workers either, It's very hard work, hard on the body and not something most people would view as a job they would like to do. I drove a truck for several years while in college, not even remotely close to same required skills or education needed to be a firefighter or paramedic.
The US would come to a halt without truck drivers and another under appreciated vocation but again not the same job as a FF.
Most of the FFs hired now have four year degrees, 2 years of additional FF training plus EMT school. If they are a paramedic you can add about another year of school, hospital rotation, internship.
Again, it's 2011 in Silicon Valley not 1900 in Sacramento.
I'm not thinking for a min that FFs are all that, but most FFs have found themselves in harms way than the average person in the military. The vast percentage of those in the military are providing service that is needed and part of a large team that relys on eachother. But the truth is most of them are serving in a role that does not require being in a combat area or in a hostile zone or place. For you to state that all military people are being shot at or in harms way is simply not factual. They hopefully never will and may probably never have, that fact does not make them undeserving of our respect and thanks.
CalFire employees also make huge percentage of their income with OT during the summer months. CalFire seems to never mention that, I'm not talking about summer hire seasonal FFs, ie college students either.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:07 pm

I would like to know what "taxpayer" and "resident" do for a living. That is besides knowing it seems, exactly what FFs/paramedics do or don't do according to them.
"resident" I was refering to the Military in my previous post regarding the age at which people should serve until.

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

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