FIREHOUSE INTERVIEW: FIRE CHIEF JOANNE HAYES-WHITE San Francisco, CA, Fire Department

Firehouse: The San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) is down about 300 firefighters. Is there a plan for the future to hire new firefighters and promote EMTs? Hayes-White: In the past few years, we have been unable to match retirements with new hires...


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Firehouse: San Francisco Engine 1 is listed in our National Run Survey as the busiest engine company in the country, logging 10,367 runs in 2011 (see the July issue). Engine 1 and other companies in the city do a tremendous amount of running. Are there any plans to add units or other measures to keep ahead of their call volume?

Hayes-White: Our downtown corridor has a consistently high call volume. The population in San Francisco is roughly 800,000 residents, but during the workweek, this nearly doubles to 1.5 million. We are looking forward to adding an engine and truck company in the China Basin/Mission Bay Area with the opening of Station 4 in 2014 to assist with the heavy call volume.

 

Firehouse: With the 2010 pipeline explosion and fire in nearby San Bruno and other daily dealings with the local gas company, what kind of relationship does the department have with the utility?

Hayes-White: Immediately following the Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline incident in San Bruno, a city approximately 11 miles south of the heart of San Francisco, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom called on me to form, develop and chair a San Francisco Utility Infrastructure and Safety Review Team. I meet regularly with both gas and electric executives to continually advocate for improved communication and coordination. We have also requested an investment in modernization of equipment and technology and joint training sessions.

 

Firehouse: With manpower being low, does the department require members to work mandatory overtime to keep up staffing?

Hayes-White: The San Francisco Fire Department does have a mandatory-overtime policy that we have had to rely upon more frequently due to reduced staffing. This is not an ideal situation operationally nor from an employee perspective. However, with our staffing plan in place to hire a class of firefighters every year for the next six years, our reliance on mandatory overtime will reduce greatly.

 

Firehouse: Has the department been able to receive federal grants and how have they been used?

Hayes-White: The San Francisco Fire Department is grateful to have received millions of dollars in funding from the following federal grants: Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), Port Security Grant Program (PSGP), Public Safety Interoperability Communication Grant Program (PSIC) and Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG). The grants have been utilized for equipment, training, exercises, planning, standardized operations guidelines development, communications enhancements, information/intelligence, CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives) response, on-site incident management, critical logistics distribution, responder safety, WMD (weapons of mass destruction)/hazmat response, urban search and rescue, marine response and emergency medical services.

Firehouse: How does the department protect a great extra number of people when there are special events, such as when the President comes to town, Fleet Week and the recent U.S. Open golf championship?

Hayes-White: San Francisco hosts several high-occupancy special events every year. In addition to presidential and dignitary visits, Fleet Week and the U.S. Open, and two professional sporting franchises, other events that the city has hosted include Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, the World Series games and parade and a dozen or so parades annually. We are now gearing up for the 34th America’s Cup.

All of these events require tremendous coordination and cooperation among multiple agencies. The San Francisco Fire Department participates in unified special-event planning meetings that involve all city agencies impacted for the event along with private security and EMS providers that may be contracted for the event. Once the nature and occupancy for the event are evaluated, an Event Action Plan (EAP) is developed and implemented to ensure the proper amount of SFFD fire and EMS assets are assigned. The EAP is coordinated with the Department of Emergency Management and Bureau of Fire Inspection for event permitting.