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  1. #1
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    Unhappy S.F. urged to shut 3 fire stations

    S.F. urged to shut 3 fire stations
    $30 million in cuts to be proposed to supervisors today



    San Francisco could save up to $30 million by closing three fire stations, making firefighters work more hours per week and fine-tuning the way the Fire Department responds to calls, city Controller Ed Harrington will tell the Board of Supervisors today.

    These recommendations and others -- including the removal of street alarm boxes -- are part of an audit report Harrington will present to a board committee as the city prepares to tackle an anticipated $350 million budget deficit.

    The hearing before the three-member panel is expected to draw several hundred firefighters and community members who don't want the city to touch their stations.

    "They're issuing a death sentence," said John Hanley, president of San Francisco Fire Fighters Local 798. "And fire insurance will double -- as soon as the insurance companies see you are not in close proximity to a firehouse, they're going to hit you with higher rates."

    Margaret Brodkin, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, who helped persuade the Board of Supervisors to request the audit last year, criticized Hanley and the union for what she called baseless scare tactics.

    "Reconfiguring the equipment and personnel that is available will actually make improvements," said Brodkin, who lives in a neighborhood that would be affected by the closure of a fire station. "We need to look at the whole city and have a balanced approach."

    Harrington said a citywide approach is just what he and his task force had in mind when they set about examining the city's fire and emergency medical services for cost-cutting opportunities.

    "San Francisco has more fire stations per square mile than any comparable community -- 41 stations in 48 square miles," he said. "They cost between $2 million and $5.5 million each, and some of them have just two or three responses per day. Is this the best way to spend our money? . . . If the odds are that maybe you could help two people, how much are you willing to pay for that?"

    The Fire Department has a budget of $216 million. By June 1, Mayor Gavin Newsom must deliver a balanced budget for all city departments and agencies to the supervisors, who then have an opportunity to offer their own suggestions. This year's total budget is $4.8 billion.

    During his campaign for election, Newsom was unequivocal in his desire to keep all the fire stations open.

    "We haven't reviewed (the report) in depth yet, but the mayor's position on firehouses has not changed," said Peter Ragone, a Newsom spokesman.

    Harrington said the report simply gives city officials options, and he doesn't expect all of them to be adopted.

    "If you have a different approach to the same answer, knock yourself out, " he said.

    At the least, he said, the city could save $13 million by shutting down Engine 18 in the Sunset and Stations 20 in the Twin Peaks area and either 24 or 26 Noe Valley and by retiring two trucks at other firehouses and reducing staffing on six other trucks.

    The city could save even more money by extending the workweek from 48 hours to 48.7 -- the schedule local firefighters used to have -- or to as long as 52 hours, as in Oakland, or 56 hours, as in San Jose, Los Angeles, Fremont, Santa Rose and Richmond.

    Hanley countered that San Francisco firefighters receive less vacation and fewer holidays. Still, he said the union, which is renegotiating its two- year contract, would be willing to discuss the issue of longer hours.

    Supervisor Tony Hall, whose district west of Twin Peaks includes Station 20 and who is up for re-election in November, excoriated the controller for suggesting that the city close fire stations.

    "That report is based on silliness, not reality," he said. "We're penalizing residents who have been very diligent in not calling the Fire Department for every hangnail. . . . I am not going to sacrifice the safety of my constituents for some accountant's bottom line."

    Hall has suggested that the city sell a four-parcel plot of land on 19th Avenue that belongs to the Fire Department and is unused. The mayor is considering it, he said, and the estimated $1.2 million to $1.7 million asking price could fund Station 20.

    As for the street alarms, which by and large yield false calls, Hanley said they might be outmoded, but they're important.

    "What they're saying is the element in society that doesn't have a cell phone, they're going to ignore, and that's essentially poor people," he said.

    But Brodkin, whose organization lobbies for increased city funding for children's and educational services, argues that the Fire Department needs to be restructured in the best interest of the city.

    "Is this crusade against this report about public protection, or is it about protecting the perks of some public employees?" she said. "I think the public will be safer and we'll have the resources to keep our clinics open and our child care open."

    E-mail Suzanne Herel at sherel@sfchronicle.com.

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  2. #2
    Forum Member allineedisu's Avatar
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    Thumbs down

    YUCK!!!


    I sure hope that all this doesn't happen. I wonder, if the Chief had a set, any of this would be happening!!! Plus when you have a kid as Mayor, strange things happen too. He probably doesn't know what the Fire Department is all about!!

    It is time for the Brothers and Sisters of Local 798 get out and get all the citizens involved and stop this nonsense.

    Good luck SFFD, you are all going to need it and the support of everyone.


    Be Safe and Careful.

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    Early Adopter cozmosis's Avatar
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    Default

    Certainly, everything they are proposing is bad for the fire department and for the citizens they are charged with protecting. What I find more alarming than the station closures is the suggestion that staffing be reduced on existing companies. Trying to do more with less gets people hurt.

    On the other side of coin, I hate seeing firefighters use scare tactics to try to stop these proposed cuts. For instance, statements like "they're issuing a death sentence" and "fire insurance will double" make us look foolish. In this case, they make us look like liars.

    I can't imagine that fire insurance rates in SF would double by closing three stations... especially with the saturation of fire stations that city enjoys. All it takes is a smart guy from city hall to show how the fire union lied... and then the firefighters have lost just a bit of the people's trust.

    Fight these battles with legitimate & factual information. Don't use scare tactics. If people are considering cutting fire stations, they aren't going to buy into the "burning baby" argument.

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    Permanently Removed CALFFBOU's Avatar
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    Default Re: S.F. urged to shut 3 fire stations

    Originally posted by superchef
    These recommendations and others -- including the removal of street alarm boxes
    Not a bad idea. With everyone having cell phones these days,
    do they really need those old street alarm boxes, the
    monitoring stations and the duty personnel to watch them?

  5. #5
    Permanently Removed CALFFBOU's Avatar
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    Default Good point...

    Originally posted by cozmosis
    On the other side of coin, I hate seeing firefighters use scare tactics to try to stop these proposed cuts. For instance, statements like "they're issuing a death sentence" and "fire insurance will double" make us look foolish. In this case, they make us look like liars.
    Very good point, thank you very much for the reminder.

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    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    Default

    I wonder, if the Chief had a set, any of this would be happening!!!
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    Permanently Removed CALFFBOU's Avatar
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    Default Oh my...

    The above posting is sooo not PC, but I cant stop lauging
    either...

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    PC, maybe not, but this would be a very good opportunity for the Fire Chief to prove that her appointment was based on merit and not a political move. I have not found a statement from her on this and it would be interesting to see whether she rolls over on this one or not.

  9. #9
    Forum Member Lewiston2FF's Avatar
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    Default Re: Re: S.F. urged to shut 3 fire stations

    Originally posted by CALFFBOU

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Originally posted by superchef
    These recommendations and others -- including the removal of street alarm boxes
    Not a bad idea. With everyone having cell phones these days,
    do they really need those old street alarm boxes, the
    monitoring stations and the duty personnel to watch them?
    But remember that those alarm boxes were a saving grace with the cell phone system being plugged beyond belief during the Northeast blackout in August. I would put some serious though into maintaining the boxes but perhaps cut staffing to monitor the boxes. It aint perfect but its something.
    Shawn M. Cecula
    Firefighter
    IACOJ Division of Fire and EMS

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    Talking

    In my experience, the turn out time when the alarm box is removed will greatly increase. When the box is pulled, the gong alerts the station personnel immediately (providing the system terminates in the station) and the crew can be enroute in a matter of seconds, when the telephone is used, the call usually goes to a central dispatch and the operator taking the call has to gather all relevant information before he/she can dispatch the apparatus. this all takes time, most calls require at least one minute for the dispatch operator to get all info, plus the time then required to relay the details to the responding stations. Not everyone has the luxury of a telephone, and even fewer have cell phones. Also cell phones dont always work satisfactorily. True there are false alarms from boxes, but think about it,false calls are also made by telephone and about 90% of calls from automatic fire alarms are also false, should we do away them also?

  11. #11
    Forum Member Bones42's Avatar
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    Default

    1) It was at least 10 years ago
    2) I am from an area no where near as large as SF
    3) We are volunteer and no one mans the station until called

    With that said, we removed our pull boxes from around town. There were lots of arguements that it would be unsafe to do so from the public. Our false alarm runs went down over 80%. By going through our records, in 4 years previous, there had not been 1 actual call reported via the pull box as the initial activation. We did have 3 that were pulled after phone calls had already been made.

    4) Can't speak for SF on how effective their boxes are or are not.

    I think this will be interesting as the article has people on both sides of the proposal and has people with differing opinions.
    "This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?

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    I have a copy of the report from the Office of the Controller that details what is being proposed. Give me time to read it and I'll be back with a little more information.

    Here are some of the recommendations that are being proposed:

    1. Reducing staff from 5 to 4 on some trucks
    2. Increasing San Francisco FF workweek to bring it nearer the average of other cities per-hour cost.
    3. Removing street alarm boxes and installing false alarm deterrent devices on any boxes that are retained.
    4. The City should consider, over the long term, new ways to deliver services, including possibly contracting for transport services and otherwise maximizing the availability of its medic units, ambulances and paramedic staff.

    According to the report, the average workweek is 48 hours. The proposal is to increase it ranges from 48.7 -56 hour workweek (this is after still closing stations and reducing staffing.

    I still have some reading to do.
    Last edited by superchef; 04-29-2004 at 04:57 PM.

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    Nothing I've read sounds THAT unreasonable.

    Pull boxes are outdated and expensive. I realize that change is hard but come on. There were protests when cities like Chicago replaced their horse wagons with motorized. Firefighters had a hard time embracing SCBAs. Time are hard, especially in CA. I know that there are many old buildings in SF but going from a 5 to a 4 person company? We run 4 where I live and that is considered to be top notch. Moving from 48 to 56 hour work weeks? We work 56 hour work weeks now. No problems. I haven’t read the word layoffs yet and that should be the biggest concern.

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    It will be interesting to see how this plays out but don't be surprized if these recommendations are from the Chief and a good part of the reason she was hired/

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    As for the Alarm boxes...

    I am not familiar with SFFDs system but it can't be that different from the one we have in NYC. I think many are missing the big point here.

    SF is one of the most densely packed cities in this country. It has many hilly neighborhoods that consist of mainly woodframed dwellings all packed right next to each other. And to make the situation worse it lies in Earthquake country.

    There are many persons who don't have or carry thier cell phone. There are plenty of poor that don't have access to these phones.

    -Cell Phones and Land lines can and do fail.
    On 9-11 due to peak-use and during the Northeast black out due to power failure, cell phones and land lines failed.

    Just a month ago 911 service accidentialy was severed for a number of hours in Brooklyn and Queens. The ONLY method short of running to the local firehouse was to pull the street box. Which was how an All-Hands Fire was reported.

    I'm sure NYC isn't the only big city vulnerable to this kind of failure.

    During all the above events the only uninterupted method of reporting a fire was the corner Fire Alarm box. We've had 5th alarms that only came in as a single Alarm Box activation. One of the worst Commercial Hi-Rise Fires on Park Ave was reported by a single Street Fire Alarm Box. Upon Arrival the Companies had fire blowing out of the 20th Floor! No Phone calls, No Alarms, nothing! I'm sure San Fran has had the same situation before as well.

    San Fran finds it self in the same situation of being in a highly flamable town with plenty of reasons to keep the boxes.

    In this situation I believe there is zero relevance to anyones experince in some small low density town anywhere that removed thier boxes. We are talking about San Francisco, not Upper Strawbottom, PA or wherever.

    As for staffing to monitor them...In New York there are no extra dispatchers to monitor them that I am aware of. Perhaps they do in San Fran...I'm not sure.

    I've been to plenty of MFAs from Boxes...but I have also been to some that turned out to be fires. I gladly will get up for MFAs just to avoid a delayed alarm. There are just too many lives at stake.

    FTM-PTB
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    Last edited by FFFRED; 04-29-2004 at 06:56 PM.

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    closures and staff reductions are never the answer. at least in my opinion. maybe a couple politics should tighten their belt a little. maybe the group that called for the audit should be looked at a little more closely. i feel you should never compromise civilian safety just for a balanced budget. if you have to raise taxes. many people probably dont realize that the stations that only run a few calls a day were probably built to help relieve some other stations.
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    San Francisco and Boston are like twins separated by 3000 miles of land mass.

    Both face the same type of problems... especially with buildings of class 5 construction literally built on top of each other!

    This is a bad move by the polticians...who in turn will then turn on the SFFD if the defacation hits the oscillation and ask why didn't you do anything?
    ‎"The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
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    Default Re: Oh my...

    Originally posted by CALFFBOU
    The above posting is sooo not PC, but I cant stop lauging
    either...
    I have to second the thought, Bou......... Took me a minute to get it (sorry I'm slow today), but I got it........

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    Capt Gonzo
    Boston was one of the cities they used in their jurisdiction comparisons.

    They compared population, area (sq. mi), Density, Altitude Range (ft), % of housing built before 1959 , the numebr of stations and the numebr of statiosn per square mile.
    The other cities in their comparison were Baltimore, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Their findings were that San Francisco has the most stations per square mile. By comparison the report found that

    SF has 0.86 stations per sq. mile
    Baltimore 0.51
    Boston 0.72
    Portland 0.22
    Seattle 0.39

    According to the findings in the report

    The city's emergency services workload is primarily medical... and can be significantly reduced by eliminating certain types of wasteful responses.

    In breaking down the response types, 61% are medical, 37% are suppression (fire 28%, alarm 55%). In the most recent fiscal year there were 300 "working fires". This is a result of better building codes, increased fire safety standards, and increased education in the public about fire prevention. So far, I don't see any waste. Do they want the city to burn down to justify having a fire department. Please correct me if I am wrong but I thought the first priority of the fire departments was FIRE PREVENTION AND SAFETY.

    In looking at their reasoning for removing the box alarms, approximately 20,000 responses per year are for street box alarms.

    " Of those, 85% are false and of the ones that are not false, 80% of those are calls for medical attention. The minimum response to a box alarm is a truck and an engine. This means that 9 people total at a cost of about $500 an hour. respond to calls that are almost always false." (from the City Controller Report).

    What the powers that be are proposing is to have the box alarm responded to by a medic unit. So, my question is what about the other 20% of the valid calls? If those are for something other than just a medical emergency, the medics can't go into a burning building. They will have to wait for an engine to respond, adding to the response time. That would mean another 4 minutes (approx.) for an engine to be called and be on scene. Now you have an approximate response time of about 7-8 minutes before an engine and/or truck is on scene.


    What they are proposing is:
    Close 3 engine companies, 2 truck companies
    Reduce the staffing on 6 FF trucks to 4 FF's in low-rise neighborhoods.
    Deactivate street box alarms
    Reduce supression Code 3s from 100% to 80%
    Increasing the hourly work week to bring it clsoer to other cities' average cost per hour.


    The Fire Department is not a commodity that can be reduced to dollars and cents and averaging. In 2003, a groundbreaking report by the NFPA was released, “A Needs Assessment Study of the U.S. Fire Service”. That report documented the capabilities and resources of the Fire Service. According to NFPA president and CEO Jim Shannon,
    “We have first class fire services in this country that are understaffed, under-funded and under-trained to meet the
    emergencies (including homeland security) we’re asking them to respond to.” (Freestone, 2003, p.1)

    We are moving in the wrong direction here.

  20. #20
    Permanently Removed CALFFBOU's Avatar
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    Default More 2 cents...

    Originally posted by superchef
    Here are some of the recommendations that are being proposed:

    1. Reducing staff from 5 to 4 on some trucks
    2. Increasing San Francisco FF workweek to bring it nearer the average of other cities per-hour cost.
    3. Removing street alarm boxes and installing false alarm deterrent devices on any boxes that are retained.
    4. The City should consider, over the long term, new ways to deliver services, including possibly contracting for transport services and otherwise maximizing the availability of its medic units, ambulances and paramedic staff.
    I am not a Chief, nor a "bean counter", but I dont see
    these being "bad ideas."

    1. 4 FFs on a truck is he norm in nost places. Across the
    bay, some departments have only 3.
    2. 56 hour work week. That is pretty much the standard in
    California. Plus you have less paperwork now. No more
    tracing of non-work days aka "kelly days."
    3. Get rid of the boxes. Everyone has land lines and cell
    phones. I saw a news story on those in SF and you have to
    pay a FF to monitor them and then dispatch the house.
    Time to modernize.
    4. Sounds good to me, what ever works the best.

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