News


Fire Department to cut positions as it deals with falling revenue

With reimbursement from Stanford decreasing, Palo Alto seeks leaner service model

The Palo Alto Fire Department plans to eliminate 11 positions -- roughly 10 percent of its workforce -- to deal with falling revenues from its contract with Stanford University.

The staffing reduction, which the City Council is set to approve on Oct. 16, would eliminate seven firefighter positions and four apparatus-operator positions. Fire Chief Eric Nickel said the change is expected to save about $1.5 million annually, while maintaining service levels that will allow the department to meet its performance standards.

The staffing change, Nickel said, will effectively mean that there would be one fewer firefighter on duty during the day and three fewer during the night hours. But the city also plans to boost its medical-response operation by adding a fourth ambulance to supplement the three it currently employs.

The changes are driven by both revenue reductions and by the changing nature of the community's needs. The city has been providing Stanford with fire services since 1976, though the relationship was imperiled in 2013, when the university gave the city a two-year cancellation notice.

Since then, the city and Stanford have been mired in protracted negotiations, with the university arguing that it is paying more than its fair share for the fire services (particularly after it closed in 2012 a fire station at Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory). Palo Alto has continued to provide the university with fire service under a series of short-term contracts that reduced Stanford's contribution by about 25 percent, or $2 million.

The council acknowledged the reduction in Stanford's reimbursement in June, when it approved a budget with an unspecified expenditure reduction of $1.3 million. Since then, management and the main fire union, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, have held 14 meet-and-confer sessions to identify cost-reduction opportunities.

The proposal that the department came up with after the negotiations calls for reducing daily staffing on a ladder truck from four to three personnel (the same level it was before 2013); cross-staffing an engine and an ambulance at three of the six stations (which allows firefighters to use either apparatus, depending on the service call), and bumping up the number of ambulances operating between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. -- the hours during which two-thirds of the service calls occur -- from three to four.

A new report from the Fire Department notes that the new model would deploy 26 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics each day between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 24 firefighters between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m., when demand is lowest.

Nickel told the Weekly that the move will not only save money, but will allow the department to use its resources more efficiently. A key feature of the new service model, Nickel said, is having more people on duty during peak call times and fewer during less busy hours.

"We have crews today that are running less than an hour's worth of calls per day," Nickel said.

To come up with the optimal model, Nickel said the department relied on software that allows users to shift resources around the city and analyze the potential impact of these shifts, based on call data and other statistics. The new model, he said, will allow the department to continue to meet its goal of responding to emergency calls in eight minutes or fewer 90 percent of the time.

By adding a fourth ambulance, the new model also recognizes the community's growing demand for medical response, even as major structure fires become increasingly rare.

According to Fire Department statistics, the number of fire incidents in Palo Alto and Stanford has declined by 32 percent since 2008, with residential structure fires decreasing by 82 percent over this period. A report from the Fire Department attributes this to "strong effective building codes, especially fire sprinklers, new construction practices that incorporate fire resistive materials and fire-safe appliances."

Medical calls, on the other hand, continue to rise. Ambulance transports have gone up by 52 percent since 2007, a trend that the department attributes to an aging population and the "expanded awareness of the 9-1-1 system." Palo Alto residents over 65 years old account for 50 percent of the ambulance transports to hospitals, despite making up only 17 percent of the population.

Nickel noted that under the new model, there will be no station closures and no layoffs. The department currently has 17 vacancies, he said.

But while Nickel called the service model "innovative," fire Capt. Ryan Stoddard, who heads the firefighters union, criticized it for depending too much on cross-staffing to achieve reductions. Even though the new plan adds a fourth ambulance – which everyone agrees is a good thing – two of the ambulances depend on cross-staffing, which could result in a personnel shortage when the city gets multiple calls for service at the same time.

"When we start cross-staffing, we're just rolling the dice, hoping we have the right unit at the right place at the right time, which becomes risky and unsafe," Stoddard said.

Stoddard disputed the idea that eliminating 11 positions will not impact response times, particularly as the number of calls for service continues to grow. Fire management had acknowledged in the past that the staffing levels are "appropriate" for the city. For union members, the idea of changing these levels based on a decision by Stanford to reduce its fees, did not seem like the wisest course of action.

"With 11 fewer FTEs (full-time equivalents), there's no way the service levels will remain the same," Stoddard said.

Stoddard said the union had presented its own ideas for achieving cost reductions, including eliminating one of the city's two deputy chief positions and some of the "floater" positions, which don't have assigned spots in the department but which are hired to fill in as needed. Those proposals, he said, were rejected.

Ultimately, the union did not agree to support the staffing reductions, though it acknowledged that the city has met its legal meet-and-confer requirements. Despite the challenges that they believe the service changes will present, he said firefighters are hoping that the new staffing model will work out well for the city.

"Any time you're asking people for doing more with less, that will take a hit on morale," Stoddard said. "We will still show up and run calls to the best of our ability because that's what firefighters do."

Nickel said that despite these anxieties, the department is committed to making the new model work. Innovation in a "very traditional career" can be very frightening, Nickel said, and can cause "a lot of discomfort and anxiety." But he said that the new proposal has prompted many Palo Alto firefighters to ask: "How are we going to make it work?"

Nickel also said that if the new service model doesn't work out as expected, he will work with the council to address any shortcomings.

"I have told the council that if we see service levels drop and our response time increasing, we will absolutely be coming back to the council to ask for assistance in mitigating that," Nickel said.

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Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Plan your emergencies well in advance. Make appointments.


18 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2017 at 6:48 pm

A big expense item is overtime, especially when there are unfilled positions. And by reducing the number of positions, future pension liabilities are reduced. And by having mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire protection districts, the risks can be reduced.


24 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Maybe it is time for elected officials in Palo Alto to look into dropping the city’s fire department and contracting with Santa Clara County Fire Department.


13 people like this
Posted by are you kidding
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:18 pm

Oh cool, I really look forward to those 20-25 minute response times. Because that's what will happen when the county cuts fire stations in Palo Alto.


23 people like this
Posted by Concerned Citizen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:44 pm

Contracting with Santa Clara County FD might not be a better deal. You need to look at everything before saying it’s a better deal. They make more money, better retirement and better benefits then Palo Alto FD. To drop our department and go with County might not be a better idea. Our fire department are amazing and we need to keep them. Also, I agree with everyone. The fire department has response times that they need to meet per the County and State. If they don’t meet those times then the city will get fined. I think the pompous and arrogant council needs to think about our safety and well being more then what type and where they are going to plant a tree. They have been making stupid decisions for this city for a long time and they need to go. My families safety is now in jeopardy.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2017 at 9:59 pm

The article says they have 17 vacancies but will be cutting 11 FTEs. Presumably, those 11 FTEs would come from the 17 vacancies. If the PAFD fills those other 6 vacancies, service levels should be at least the same, if not better, than what they currently are. Why all the fuss if they've already been operating at below full capacity and no one has noticed a decrease in service? I applaud Chief Nickel for finding a way to make this work in a more permanent way.


39 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2017 at 10:17 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

2018 budget for the fire department is $13.7m for salaries, $8.4m for retiree's pensions and healthcare. Public employee pensions continue to suck the life out of the city and state.


13 people like this
Posted by Jack Kelvin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2017 at 9:03 am

Good point John, my wife is a nurse and has a good retirement but nothing like that. People complain about retirements but failure to mention other unions. The electricians union, plumbers union etc. Those benefits are unbelievable yet you don’t complain or wrote about paying an electrician $180 an hour to pull wire. Look at the walk out they did on the Apple project over some piece of sheet rock. I learned how to install toilets, sinks and other plumbing projects just so I don’t have to pay a plumber $145 an hour. Give the fire departments some slack about their job. You could have been a fireman but chose something else. I’d rather pay them for the job they do then an electrician or contractor what they get paid. You want to talk about out of control? Let’s start there.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 7, 2017 at 5:00 pm

"I’d rather pay them for the job they do then an electrician or contractor what they get paid."

Illegal immigrant tradesmen work for much less. Hire them before they all get deported. (I wonder if Trump is sub rosa on the take from the unions)

Speaking of unions, is your wife in the nurses union? If she is, do you ever wonder why it has to be so much weaker?


16 people like this
Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2017 at 5:40 pm

“The council acknowledged the reduction in Stanford's reimbursement in June, when it approved a budget with an unspecified expenditure reduction of $1.3 million.”

---------------

To be clear, the FY2018 budget approved by the council in June included a Fire expenditure increase of $2.83 million, or roughly +10%, over the FY2017 Fire budget of $28.9 million Web Link, p236. An additional $1.3 million in expenditures would have been the difference between a +10% increase and a +14% increase.


It may seem counterintuitive that even including a budgeted headcount decrease, department expenditures would still increase +10%. The answer is that Fire costs are escalating significantly faster than both inflation and city revenues, especially pension and retiree-medical costs. (I don’t mean to single out Fire, which is only one of many city agencies in this circumstance, though it represents one of the larger General Fund departments.)


The City of Palo Alto’s overall unfunded pension and retiree-medical liability, valued at realistic investment projections, is now approaching $1 billion. Our CalPERS annual required contribution towards just servicing this liability is now approaching 10% of the General Fund, and is by far the General Fund’s fastest-growing major expense. Even so, these payments are not actually large enough to stop our overall liability from growing, and as our liability-servicing costs continue to rise faster than city revenues, they will continue to crowd out more and more of other city expenditures, including staff.


Within the FY2018 budget, the Fire department was able to keep response times constant essentially through schedule adjustments, recognizing the shifting demand from Fire calls to emergency medical calls. This was a smart move by the Department, and avoided a drop in service.


Nevertheless, people should understand the rolling-snowball arithmetic of this. It clearly suggests that as currently structured, in the long run it is unlikely the City will be able to afford to maintain services at the level to which we have become accustomed. The discussion in this article is one we should expect to continue in the years ahead.


8 people like this
Posted by Michelle
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 7, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Stanford got out of the fire dept business in 1976 when they started to pay Palo Alto to run their two stations. Maybe Palo Alto should do the same. Pay a yearly fee and not worry about staffing, funding pensions or medical.


17 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2017 at 8:26 pm

"... in the long run it is unlikely the City will be able to afford to maintain services at the level to which we have become accustomed."

Meantime, why not get better contract negotiators.


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2017 at 1:30 am

Eric - thanks for jumping in. Over the years we must have added headcount for Stanford. Stanford's additional headcount is part of the unfunded pension liability. Does Stanford get to walk away from the future cost?

What about all the cops we add for the 70,000 daily commuters? Do their employers also get to walk away from the future pension costs?

Doesn't seem fair!


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 8, 2017 at 6:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Stanford agreed to buy a service from Palo Alto and to pay a negotiated fee for that service.

If Palo Alto failed to include their total pension costs in that negotiated price then that is Palo Alto's problem.

When you buy a car you do not assume any liability/responsibility for the manufacturer's pension costs over and beyond what you paid for the car.


7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2017 at 8:42 am

Peter - I think you're missing the point. We set fees for Fire, development services, etc. based on the budgeted cost. If the budgeted costs under-report the actual future costs, then the fees will be set too low. Different question whether we have recourse to recover future unfunded pension costs that were incurred in a past contract year.

California cities can't issue bonds to obligate future taxpayers without a vote, but they can negotiate pensions without a taxpayer vote and leave future taxpayers on the hook if the funding formula was wrong.

Which I think is Eric's point, that future services may be cut because future year taxpayers need to pay for past year contract obligations. And wealthy Stanford is not part of the tax base, so they're getting a free ride. Go figure.


13 people like this
Posted by Kennedy
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 10:49 am

"Any time you're asking people for doing more with less, that will take a hit on morale," Stoddard said.
When you have 1000's of people applying for 5-6 openings in the fire dept, I don't think there is a problem with morale. And if you do, well I'm sure there are many that will gladly take your place.


12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2017 at 11:51 am

"...wealthy Stanford is not part of the tax base, so they're getting a free ride. Go figure."

Palo Alto: Stanford's patsy. Again.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Since older residents claim they user fewer city services to justify paying less property tax under Prop 13, maybe fire department shouldn't cover them?


2 people like this
Posted by steve
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 8, 2017 at 5:36 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 8, 2017 at 6:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"We set fees for Fire, development services, etc. based on the budgeted cost"

The service provide toStanford was not fee based but the result of a negotiated price. Stanford paid for X years of services at a mutually agreed price.

If Palo Alto agreed to provide the service for less than its actual cost that is Palo Alto's problem, not Stanford's.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 8, 2017 at 7:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that, because of the mutually agreed contract language, Stanford had to pay Palo Alto to operate the SLAC fire station for a couple of years AFTER the SLAC fire station was closed.


14 people like this
Posted by almunday
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2017 at 10:53 am

instead of individual contributor layoffs, city mgmt needs to look at all the mgmt levels in the FD, like all org's...they are probably top heavy with all levels of mgmt


15 people like this
Posted by almunday
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2017 at 10:57 am

I hate it when people start blaming budget issues with pensions and such.
One of the perks is the retirement package. its city's mgmt's fault for not
monitoring it better, so don't blame the people who have honorable served
the city


18 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2017 at 11:31 am

Annette is a registered user.

Nickel has stated some reasonable justification for the staffing plan. Nonetheless, it is concerning to read both that "falling revenue" is driving the changes in PAFD and Filseth's comment that "the rolling-snowball arithmetic . . . clearly suggests that . . . it is unlikely the City will be able to afford to maintain services at the level to which we have become accustomed." At least the word is officially out.

But it begs this question: WHY does CC continue to approve the addition of management level staff at City Hall? I sincerely doubt that any resident would opt to have an additional Assistant City Manager (for example) over an additional fire fighter. City Hall needs to get its priorities straight. Safety first.


24 people like this
Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

Bob Wenzlau is a registered user.

Separate from the fiscal issues, our fire fighters and paramedics are heroes. I am proud of what they do locally, and am proud as the respond now to support regional issues in Napa and Santa Rosa counties. No one doubts the valor of a fire fighter or a paramedic. The fiscal debate does impact the morale of those who serve us. They are there our our communities most gruesome moments, and don't flinch. So as we debate the budget issues, remember the same words said here are read by those who serve us. Make sure that they know we support them!


15 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Our firefighters and emergency responders do great work. However, there is no need for a fully manned firetruck to accompany an emergency vehicle responding to a 911 call for someone experiencing chest pain, unless the house is on fire.


8 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 9, 2017 at 12:10 pm

We are looking at total fire destruction currently occurring in Sonoma County and Napa County. Given the amount of trees in PA in various stages of growth and dying we are in a high percentage area for a fire. The overall cost to the city if this occurs will surpass and outgo of cost you are looking at. Re-evaluate what you are doing.


15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2017 at 1:18 pm

@Almunday: the issue isn't the pension. The issue is the pensions weren't fully funded when they were granted. Funding falls farther behind each year. If the union and CC were honest they'd both demand the pensions be fully funded each year from inception. Both sides have complicitly kicked the can down the road for years.


Which means wealthy Stanford evades some of their share of pension costs, because the accounting for fee-setting only captures part of the cost of providing services each year.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 9, 2017 at 1:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" because the accounting for fee-setting only captures part of the cost of providing services each year"

The Palo Alto - Stanford contract was NOT fee based. It was a mutually negotiated contract to provide fire/emergency services at a fixed cost for a fixed number of years.

That contract also assumed PAFD would operate two stations at Stanford but when the SLAC fire station was closed Palo Alto did not reduce the negotiated price.


11 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm

Hello 38 year resident-
Actually, it IS necessary for a "fully manned firetruck" to accompany an ambulance to a 911 call for someone experiencing chest pain.
When EMS personnel show up on the scene of a medical emergency, we basically open up a mobile emergency room on the spot, be it in someone's living room or on Highway 280 at 3 AM on a rainy night. Emergency care is a labor intensive operation. A person presenting with chest pain in a hospital emergency room will initially be surrounded by 8-10 people providing care...each one of those people has a critical role in providing patient care. Well guess what?? Paramedics, EMT's and fire fighters on the scene of a medical emergency provide the same initial care...in a great many cases (especially if the patient goes south or CPR is needed) the five people who show up via ambulance and fire engine are overwhelmed trying to stabilize the patient and provide emergency care. Also keep in mind there are a lot of other factors to deal with at an emergency scene that hospitals are immune from such as distraught family members, angry dogs, extrication from crashed vehicles, taking patients safely up or down stairs, houses jammed with furniture...the list goes on and on...
And many EMS calls can not be properly triaged over the phone as to severity. Everyone working in EMS has stories of being dispatched to calls that seemed minor but on arrival were truly major life threatening emergencies...


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2017 at 4:06 pm

To anonymous, you are so obviously part of the system. i lived in many cities around the globe and never experienced the need of anybody except trained paramedics. This american suburban overkill has to stop. Sorry if you lose the job.


5 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2017 at 4:17 pm

resident-
Thank you for the comment...
My wording in the above comment makes it obvious I am a part of the system; I was never trying to hide that.
Let's see if we can get an emergency room doctor or someone who has experience working in an emergency room to weigh in on this...


10 people like this
Posted by We don't need all these fire fighters
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2017 at 8:12 pm

How many fires were there in Palo Alto the last few years? Maybe one or two a year (besides burnt toast that set off an alarm). The point is that we don't need the massive fire presence of the past. We could easily get by with one or two "fire" stations to serve the city. The bulk of the calls - more than 90% - are EMT and ambulance type calls. These can be served by contractors who are not unionized fire fighters. [Portion removed.]

We need to cut the unionized city employees whenever and wherever possible because the laws of the state do not allow any negotiation that will decrease their obscene pensions. [Portion removed.]

The amounts we are now paying CalPers for retirement is rising by millions a year. We already cannot build new community centers, new pools, new animal shelters because tens of millions of dollars a year are going to fund over-generous pensions and raises that were negotiated by state government stooges who thought that the stock market would continue to rise at 10% a year forever. And now the city can't get out of it. It is breaking us and will slowly eat away at and destroy our infrastructure.

Time to cut as many union jobs as possible, every chance we get. All citizens of Palo Alto should show up or write to city council and let them know that pension liabilities are important to them and they want pensions cut for new hires and the city to find a way to get rid of unionized employees who are breaking our bank whenever possible.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of University South
on Oct 9, 2017 at 11:18 pm

The majority of people seem to think that the fire department isn't necessary, until it's too late. They're neglected until they're needed. I only hope our city will still be taken care of as safely as it has been. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims in Sonoma County. It was as unexpected for them as it can be for us.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2017 at 4:23 am

@Peter - [Portion removed.] Do you think price in the negotiation over fixed cost had nothing to do with City's cost model? If that's true then the City is a worse negotiator than we all thought. It's reasonable to assume Stanford paid attention to the City's published FD budget and would not be very agreeable if the City negotiator said "The published FD budget only captures 2/3 of the actual cost. Pensions and retirement medical are not fully captured, so we need to set a much higher fee."

Point is the City made a bad deal by charging Stanford a fee and hiring FFs based on Stanford's contribution. Whether the City has recourse is a different question, but it's now abundantly clear the City should not hire anyone on the premise that fees are paying their salaries.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 10, 2017 at 7:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Do you think price in the negotiation over fixed cost had nothing to do with City's cost model?"

The contract price was negotiated by the two parties and it was not a FEE established and set by the City that was then imposed on Stanford.

There were no separate fixed and variable costs in the contract -the contract was for a fixed amount.


9 people like this
Posted by Baron Park
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 10, 2017 at 10:49 am

I remember well ....

Web Link

"But in the late afternoon of November 29th, 1936, a fire began in one of the towers of the 80 year-old wooden house that would change Barron Park forever. While the cause of the blaze has long remained a mystery, electrical wiring was the likely culprit. Writer Joaquin Vienna first saw smoke pouring out of an upper-floor window while driving down the interstate. He turned into the estate, ran into the building and called the fire into three local fire departments.

Soon, fire crews from Redwood City, Menlo Park, San Mateo, County headquarters, and Moffett Naval Air Station were all racing toward the burning mansion. But it would be the reaction of the nearby Palo Alto Fire Department which would linger in the memories of Barron Park residents for decades.

Upon strict orders from the City Council, Palo Alto firefighters were not allowed to cross into other cities to fight fires because they might not be covered by insurance.
Although the nearest station to the fire was less than a mile away in Palo Alto, the fire crew there would only bring their trucks up to the end of the city line. Stopping at the border, 100 feet south of Wilton Avenue and El Camino Real, the Palo Alto firemen watched and waited. Meanwhile, Menlo Park and Redwood City crews, having to travel 7 to 9 miles further through Sunday traffic, crossed over the borders and finally reached the locale.

By the time they did, they found a ferocious raging fire that had begun to eat up the wooden structure. Menlo Park Chief Thomas Cuff took charge, but there was little the firefighters could do at that point, but try to save nearby houses. Furthermore, they could not locate a fire hydrant. Eventually they tore down fences and used a nearby recreational swimming pool in what would be an unsuccessful attempt to save the house.

During the futile battle, two county firemen nearly plunged into the burning building when they lost their footing on a ledge while directing a stream of water. No one was hurt in the fire, but despite the valiant efforts of the various fire departments, the mansion was totally lost."


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 10, 2017 at 10:05 pm

It is unfortunate that Stanford decided not to renew the contract with PAFD, but it happened. Now, PAFD has more staff and probably equipment than they need, or at least what their budget can support, again an unfortunate situation. However, this isn't simply an annual dollars and cents exercise. PAFD is the city's first responder for just about anything that's is not a police call. Most days, there isn't much to respond to, but other days, there can be a lot. If PAFD is required to maintain a minimum response time, the city must plan for a certain level of need, and pay for it. The catch of course, is to plan for enough need so that when an actual wide spread disaster strikes, there are in fact enough PAFD resources so that they can effectively respond. How to calculate that level of preparedness is beyond me, but it's what the city, PAFD, and probably disaster/first responder experts need to do here to predict as best as possible just how much PAFD they really need. Educate the public and explain the costs. Expanding regional mutual aid agreements, and expanding the local CERT and other volunteer organizations are also likely items being discussed as well.


5 people like this
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 5:41 am

Isn't this perfect timing? Our firefighters are busy fighting fire in Napa County as more dead bodies are being found every day. Sure, let's cut our emergency responders some more. What are the chances of having multiple emergencies in our city? There's no way I can have a heart attack while another family's child can be choking and a major traffic accident happen all at the same time. Their computer software says it's unlikely so we should take that risk. Smart move.


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 12, 2017 at 4:23 pm

In the past people had green lawns with organized frontage on the street. And we did not have a volume of "other" people parking on the streets. That has all changed - we now have frontage on the streets with "native grasses" - highly volatile - and no lawn. We have numerous people parking on the street that work in the area. I pick up cigarette butts on dry leaves. I shake my head at that. The people that park on my street leave fast food bags and clean out their cars and dump what ever - their ashtrays. We are in a whole different world now and the risk has gone up. I personally spend a lot of time checking out the areas next to the street for left behind stuff to make sure that there are no flammable items around. If you increase the number of people and cars and change the requirements for house frontage - wild plants found in nature vs GRASS then you are upping the risk factor. And you then have to cover that risk factor because if you don't - then you will get sued for negligence. Just like PG&E is going to get sued for not maintaining their overhead wires and making the fire problem worse in NORCAL.


8 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:34 am

Falling city revenues thanks to the current city manager and his ever expanding and costly management "team".
The city manager has taken a no response, no action plan since he was hired. Maybe it's time for a change before all our city services are diminished.


3 people like this
Posted by easong
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Small government whiners. Always attacking the unions for the high costs of pensions, as if those deals weren't duly negotiated. Pensions are not special benefits, they are deferred compensation. If you don't want to pay back the salary cost reduction you got up front when the bill comes due, don't agree to the labor deal in the first place.

As for a firestorm surging through Stanford open land someday -- sure hope they can get a local FD to come to their aid and assistance.


2 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

common sense writes:
"And by having mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire protection districts, the risks can be reduced.”

Yes, and when those jurisdictions (e.g. Palo Alto) have made such agreements, unilaterally reducing service can cause a problem with a neighbor.”

——

Resident writes:
"The article says they have 17 vacancies but will be cutting 11 FTEs. Presumably, those 11 FTEs would come from the 17 vacancies. If the PAFD fills those other 6 vacancies, service levels should be at least the same, if not better, than what they currently are.”

Yes, if approved, the budget lines will show a reduction in 11 positions (i.e., FTEs): 4 as "Apparatus Operator" and 7 as “Firefighter". But the city currently has little inclination to fill open positions, partially because of uncertainty over the Stanford contract, as well as its aversion to additional personnel in its benefits' obligation.

Current PAFD 24x7x365 "boots-on-the ground" staffing is 27 personnel, but maybe 21 or 22 firefighters would be available under normal conditions, so overtime is paid to fill in the gap. Going to 26 during the day and 24 at night will ease this cost somewhat, but also at the expense of reduced service.

That is the trade-off for the community to weigh in on now, and for our local government, which hid the impacts of the service cuts during the budget hearings in June until shamed, will take on on Monday evening. I see it as one of the most important items of the year, and any council member who cannot or will not step up to the plate with intelligence, knowledge and clarity, on this issue should not be on the dais.


2 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 15, 2017 at 6:48 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

The article and city staff report state:
"The proposal that the department came up with after the negotiations calls for reducing daily staffing on a ladder truck from four to three personnel (the same level it was before 2013)”

In 2013, Palo Alto spent $1.2 million to purchase a new, tracter-drawn aerial ladder truck. It went into operation here in mid-2014, intended to not only exceed the capabilities of the older ladder truck (via such features as it’s 100-foot ladder and better maneuverability), put also to store additional equipment for vehicle extraction, technical rescue, and water evacuation, and thereby also take the place of an older 3-person rescue vehicle.

In addition, the crew who staff this new ladder truck require a specific, high-level skill-set. The ladder truck can hold five. Four was appropriate when it went into service here and still is. Implying that returning staffing on this ladder truck to 2013 levels is a good thing, is misleading.


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Posted by Stewart Hill
a resident of another community
22 hours ago

As a retired PAFD firefighter who was proud to be a Firefighter in PAFD and still is , what is happening now will difinitely have an impact on all fire, rescue, ems, and other calls within the City's boundaries. Their is enough statistical information from the United States Fire Administration, International Association of Firefighters, National Fire Protection Association and ISO( which rates all Fire Departments to see what their insurance costs will cost for all homeowners within the City limit.
It may seem that by reducing the staffing levels will save money and that the ability to now staff an additional paramedic ambulance will greatly help on the ems side, however at some of those fire stations it is possible that when they get called on a ems call those personnel will leave the fire engine at the station and only be operating the ambulance thereby leaving that fire engine out of service. Now when this occurs at a couple of stations in the Neighborhood that YOU live in and YOUR home catches on fire just remember that the firefighters did not get their on time but because someone high up decided to save $$$ at your expense. So you say " well Palo Alto doesn't get a lot of fires anyway" and we say yes that is true by statistics but statistics don't cause fires, people do, electrical failures do, dirty chimneys do, arsonist do and so on. But you say " we have mutual aid and auto aid agreements and they will come to help". Yes up to the point that our neighboring Cities say wait a minute, we are expending our personnel for you more then we should and leaving our communities uncovered BECAUSE you decided to cut 11 positions. At what point do you think another City might say enough is enough. Either hire more firefighters or we will have to start charging. It's not that that is what we want to see but each city does need to protect and have enough staffing for their residents. So I ask all of you as residents, ask the Fire Chief of Palo Alto if infact he will be having the fire engine at that particular station that also houses a ambulance if he is leaving the fire engine unstaffed or not. Now there are a few stations that may have two additional assigned firefighters just on the ambulance and it is also possible that after 8 pm they will then be reassigned to other stations because the stats say there are less calls after 8 pm for ems calls but hey it's only a life , no big deal because the stats say there will be less calls in your neighborhood for ems after 8 pm. Hey if your thing is stats go for it.
Having your home insured for a fire is a cost you pay for because you just don't know if or if not your home may catch on fire but if your a stat person well maybe it's not worth paying for that coverage. So if so don't worry. Hey but what do I know. I'm retired after doing this professional career for 34 years.
Anyway consider calling the Fire Chief and getting things in writing and also contact our Union President which you can do by just saying hello to our dedicated Firefighters at any station. Please don't believe me, do yourselves a favor and ask .
Stewart Hill
Retired PAFD.

PS, what happens to costs when our ff's go on vacation or are sick or injured and because of reduced on-duty staffing we have to call back off duty personnel to work. Overtime may go up but never down and by reducing the ladder truck that truly is more effective with four personnel then reduced to three will hamper operations due to the operational needs. Yes it can be done but again hey why not just next time you fly send a letter to any airline and ask that they save money by only having one pilot therefore the annual costs of around 150,000 to 200,000 dollars be used to reduce our airline ticket costs since statistically speaking there aren't many crashes due to only one pilot.....


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