Search The Tattler

Monday, February 13, 2012

Letters To The Tattler: Kevin Johnson & John Cooper

Emeryville Considers Folding The Fire Dept

Emeryville's budget nightmare continues to force cost cutting at City Hall and they are now considering folding Emeryville's independent fire department and contracting out services with the Alameda County Fire Department to help with costs.  This is an idea previously considered several times over the last twenty or so years by the city council but it's always been rejected.  Now the council seems to be serious since negotiations with the County have revealed Emeryville could save up to a million dollars per year and services for residents and fire fighting capacity would actually improve.  Significantly, the Fire Fighters Union is accepting of the current plan.  

Fire Chief Kevin Johnson addresses resident's concerns with the following letter to the Tattler:
       .              .              .              . 

"The Alameda County proposal clearly indicates that both the Hollis and Powell Street fire stations will be staffed-each with an engine company and each with paramedic/advanced life support personnel and equipment.  The service level would continue to be specified and directed by the City.  Alameda County Fire essentially will work for the City of Emeryville under contract and will provide the level of service that is specified by the City.  The proposal contains no reduction in the fire stations that will be staffed and response times will not suffer.  Part of the service involves making regular measurements of service levels and response times and reporting those findings to the City.  If there were any departures from specified service levels, Alameda County would have to make the appropriate adjustments to meet their contract requirements. 

Under the plan, current Emeryville firefighters will remain in the City during the transition and integration into Alameda County .  This transition phase is explained as “incremental” over one to two years.  During that period, Emeryville firefighters learn about Alameda County polices and operating procedures.  They begin to train with Alameda County firefighters and orient themselves with other areas of the County (and Alameda County personnel orient to Emeryville).  In time and after full integration, some Emeryville firefighters may choose to bid into assignments in other areas of the County.  The important point is that this process is planned whereby firefighters receive appropriate orientation and training before movements occur.

Additionally, the proposal includes a subcontract with the City of Oakland Fire Department to provide a planned and coordinated emergency response to augment Emeryville fire units in the event of a larger incident (such as a structure fire).  Currently, Emeryville receives assistance from Oakland but it is not particularly planned or coordinated and it is not through a written agreement.  Thus, the Alameda County proposal provides an enhancement to emergency response.  In any case, service levels will certainly not diminish.    

The concept of the [fire fighting] boat is to place that resource in Emeryville to handle water-based rescues should that type of incident occur.  While rare, from time to time there have been water-based incidents that have occurred in Emeryville.  As we all saw in the tragic case of the drowning at the shore in the City of Alameda , it is much better to plan for, train, and equip emergency personnel to handle foreseeable emergencies that may arise in their community.  Sometimes emergency incident planning dictates use of mutual aid resources from other communities (which Emeryville would still use in the event of a significant water-based emergency) and sometimes it is prudent to provide equipment and training in the community.  The placement of a small boat in the City represents a service level enhancement that would make Emeryville more versatile in terms of its response capability." 

.            .          .           .

Captain John Cooper, Union representative of the Emeryville Firefighters Local 55 also weighs in on the negotiations; in a companion letter to the Tattler, Mr Cooper notes that the rank and file voted for the new plan to contract out with the County in a 21-3 vote:

..."Regarding the three individuals who voted against contracting with Alameda County- The vote was done by secret ballot and those individuals were not specifically identified, however, concerns that were expressed all related to personal pay and benefit issues and not the quality of the service being offered. All members of the Fire Department agreed that the Alameda County Fire Department will be able to provide a much higher level of service than the current stand alone Emeryville model can at a significant cost savings to the City. 

Both of the current Fire Stations will remain open and all currently employed Emeryville personnel will remain employed. If you were to have a structure fire today, you would get 2 Engines and a 1 person Truck with 7 Emeryville Firefighters responding to your house without the use of mutual aid from neighboring Cities. When the Alameda County Fire Department starts providing service in July, you will get 3 Engines, a fully staffed Truck and a Battalion Chief with 16 firefighters arriving on scene without the need for calling for mutual aid. Response times to emergencies will not be affected and the quality of service and medical care you’ve come to expect will remain the same. 

The fire boat is a nice addition as we have responded to numerous water emergencies over the years and always had to rely on the Coast guard for assistance. This will allow us to respond faster with paramedic level care and water rescue capabilities to those people who are on a boat or in the water. 

I have been employed with the Emeryville Fire Department for 25 years and I can say that this solution will provide a higher level of service to the community than you are currently receiving which is saying a lot." 


  1. So... what's the downside? There's got to be SOME downside, otherwise they would have done this years ago.

    1. There's not necessarily a downside. In fact this does appear to be a real win-win situation for the Fire Dept and for the residents. You should consider that irrational and jingoistic politics by the city council, stopped this Fire Dept contracting out from happening years ago. Watch for a Tattler story on this very subject in the near future.

    2. For once, there's no downside. Very excited to read more about the City Council politics. It's always good when they find new ways to save money, but like the other piece you wrote on the Redevelopment Agency, they haven't looked at reducing City staff to compensate for the reduced workload.

  2. So, we are willing to dissolve our Fire Department, and lose control and input over a century-old institution that is a critical and vital city service, yet we can't dissolve the worthless city attorney's office---a locus of corruption and incompetence unmatched in the Bay Area.

    If you think there is no downside to losing control over public safety, you are as naive as a newborn.