Berkeley, Calif. Fire Department's Proposal Allows City's Fire Truck Companies to Maintain Hours

The Berkeley Fire Department has come up with a budget plan that will maintain the hours of both the city's fire truck companies.

The department had to cut Station 2's service in December as a cost-saving measure. While the station maintained its engine company, many citizens were concerned that their safety was jeopardized because the city had only one of the ladder trucks available at night.

But in a presentation to the City Council on Tuesday night, Fire Chief Debra Pryor said that if all the city's fire stations share the pain of budget cuts, Station 2 could keep its truck, 24 hours a day.

Under the new plan, stations will have "rotating brownouts" when they will be short-staffed. But the two truck companies will always have the three firefighters needed.

"It's better than the closure," Pryor said. "That affected one district all the time. This way, all are affected equally and the impacts are evenly distributed."

After a slate of revenue-raising tax measures failed to gain voter approval in November, officials said the city would have to eliminate an aerial-ladder fire truck between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 a.m.

There are two such trucks in Berkeley. They are equipped with 100-foot ladders that can be used to ventilate a roof or rescue people from buildings. In addition, the city has seven smaller fire engines, which haul water and hoses, and three ambulances. It takes 34 people to staff all the vehicles for each 24-hour shift.

Pryor said despite the cuts, the city will still be able to achieve its response-time goal, which is to arrive at emergencies within 6 minutes 90 percent of the time.

The City Council approved spending $2.4 million on a new computer dispatch system for the fire and police departments.

The equipment will be bought using unexpected transfer tax revenue, as was suggested by City Manager Phil Kamlarz.

Fire and police officials say Berkeley's current equipment is outdated and will be obsolete by January 2006, when the company that manufactured it discontinues support.

In addition to facilitating communication within the department, the new system will make it easier for the department to share information with the public, said Police Chief Doug Hambleton.

Councilmembers Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Dona Spring, and Kriss Worthington abstained from the vote.

Distributed by the Associated Press