Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 4, 2011

Merge Palo Alto fire stations, consultants say

Report also recommends new 'public safety director' position, scrapping Station 8 staffing and regionalizing training

by Gennady Sheyner and Chris Kenrick

The Palo Alto Fire Department should merge its Hanover Street and Arastradero Road fire stations, reorganize top management and end the "minimum staffing" requirement in the fire-union contract, outside consultants are recommending in a new study.

The 190-page report, which the City Council will discuss Monday night, characterizes the city's Fire Department as one that provides top-notch emergency services but has major organizational deficiencies, particularly in areas such as fire prevention and training.

The study was conducted by ICMA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that promotes "best practices" in local governance, in partnership with TriData, a division of System Planning Corp., a Northern Virginia research and electronics company.

"The PAFD provides excellent service when responding to emergencies," the consultants concluded. "However, the PAFD, once considered a 'best example' fire organization, has become a stagnant organization and management is struggling, due in part to insufficient support staff."

Using data analysis and face-to-face interviews, the consultants evaluated fire-department response times; fire and emergency medical services (EMS) workloads; services and agreements with Stanford University; fire station and staffing locations and the use of overtime and auxiliary personnel.

The report includes 48 recommendations, including a new organizational structure in which a "public safety director" oversees both the police and fire operations; a single location for the Fire Department's senior staff to operate in; merging of Station 2 and Station 5 into a new station near the intersection of Arastradero Road and Hillview Avenue; and staffing Station 8 in the foothills only during "high fire" days, rather than throughout the summer.

The consultants' recommendation to merge the two stations was based on data showing "significant overlap in service coverage," according to the report.

Retaining the two stations is "not merited by current and projected demand and (there are) indications that existing locations no longer match current needs of the city as it has been built out since the stations were built in the 1960s," the report said.

The consultants also criticized the "minimum staffing" provision in Palo Alto's contract with its firefighters union. The provision, which has been in place since the late 1970s, requires the city to always have at least 29 firefighters on duty. The report stated that this provision has led to "decreased staffing flexibility as service needs change."

The lack of flexibility has meant the elimination of many administrative staff positions, some of which should be reinstated, the consultants said, including the Geographic Information System (GIS) data analyst and a battalion chief to plan and manage the training program.

But efforts to scrap the provision have been shot down in the past. The firefighters union, Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, has consistently fought efforts to end "minimum staffing," and it continues to resist job reductions in the department. Last year, the union petitioned to have Measure R placed on last November's ballot, which would have required any change in fire-department staffing levels to be approved by the electorate. It was shot down by 75 percent of voters.

"Though we understand the concern of the union to maintain an adequate staff to maintain safety, we disagree that the total minimum staff should be in the contract," the consultants wrote.

It would be reasonable, they wrote, to establish staffing guidelines for a fire engine or a ladder truck. But they wrote that the city "should never agree to a minimum staffing requirement that establishes the total force as this equates to establishing the level of service provided."

The new report also addressed another issue with a contentious history: staffing of Station 8 in the foothills. It recommends staffing the station only during "high fire" days, as determined by Cal Fire. Alternative staffing options include contracting with Cal Fire or another agency as well as investigating the use of infrared technology to monitor hot spots in the area and deploying staff as appropriate.

The station is currently open between July and November for 12 hours a day. Consultants found that in all of 2009, the station's Engine 8 responded to 17 calls and that the total workload for these calls was 12 hours. The cost to staff Station 8 was $188,000.

"The demand for services in Station 8's area is too low to justify the cost and other options may be available," the report stated.

Other recommendations are less divisive and are already being implemented by the city. The consultants urge Palo Alto to "regionalize" its fire and EMS training program and work with Los Altos, Mountain View and Sunnyvale toward a "boundary-less response network" a project the four cities are already pursuing.

"There is opportunity to improve service delivery and efficiency if Palo Alto and other jurisdictions combined to not only share stations but also to implement a boundary-less response model such that resources from any jurisdiction would respond regardless of the political boundary," the report states. "This approach would more than likely result in more service-sharing opportunities and improve efficiency because cities could share resources more than they do under the existing automatic-aid agreements."

Consultants also recommended that the city create a "public-safety director" position to oversee both police and fire operations. The fire chief position is currently vacant and Police Chief Dennis Burns has been serving as the interim fire chief since last July. The report recommends that the city make his dual-role permanent.

The report was released at a time of tension between the city and its firefighters. City Council members have frequently expressed frustrations about the rising costs in the Fire Department at a time when other departments are facing budget cuts. At last month's council retreat, City Manager James Keene talked about the need to bring the city's public-safety employees "into alignment" with other labor groups that have faced salary freezes and benefit reductions over the past two years.

The city and the firefighters union are currently negotiating a new labor agreement.

Keene said in a statement Wednesday that the consultants' review "allows us to benchmark our operations to other agencies and objectively assess what is working well and what needs refinement for us to provide responsive and cost-effective service to this community.

"I believe this report is an important step for us to identify ways to enhance the effectiveness of the Fire Department and better position it for the 21st century," he said.

Tony Spitaleri, president of Palo Alto Professional Firefighters, Local 1319, said Wednesday evening he was just beginning to read the voluminous report.

"There are a great many suggestions that would make the fire department a stronger one and would help the department meet the needs of the community," Spitaleri said.

However, he said, "The issue of minimum staffing is a real concern to us. We don't support staffing reductions that could lead to killing a firefighter or a citizen."

Talk about it

What do you think of the recommendations to change how Palo Alto's fire department works? Engage in a discussion on Town Square, the online forum on Palo Alto Online.

DROP QUOTE: The cost to staff Station 8 was $188,000, and the total workload was 12 hours.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Rick, a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Firefighters, what are you going to do now?
File a lawsuit? Start another petition?
I think you got slapped down pretty hard last time.
Ready for round 2?
How could you even suggest that Palo Alto residents thru the City Council have no right to determine staffing levels?
I ask every Palo Alto resident - if you went to your employer and told your employer, you don't get to decide how many people work here, that we the employees do, what would your employer say?
The current system on compensating public employees is unfair to the taxpayers and all us working stiffs who pay for more into social security and get far less than you do!
The harder public employees fight MUCH NEEDED reform, the bigger the backlash.
I am waiting for ONE public employee to drop the sense of entitlement and show some integrity.
Public employees always talk about community service and the sacrafice they make - time to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.


Posted by Midlander, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2011 at 6:56 pm

These seem like sensible recommendations. I hope the city acts on them.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Please don't lump the police department with the fire department. The police department and union have been there for the City in hard times by deferring raises and the willingness to work WITH the City.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm

It is about what I expected from the report. The recommendation that is missing is combining or merging with Santa Clara County Fire.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 9:06 pm

What are the projected cost savings here?

What about a merger or consolidation with agencies of adjacent municipalities?; if not studied here, when will City Manager Keene study such possibility?

On a related note, the salaries of the Admin and Support staff -- shown on page 13 -- seem quite high.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:06 pm

It's nice to have a common sense guy like chief Burns running things. Its about time. Let him make all the calls.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:07 pm

It's nice to have a common sense guy like chief Burns running things. Its about time. Let him make all the calls.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Rick,

I hope they close the station next to your house and you get "slapped down" when you have to wait and wait and wait, after you call 911 for a medical or fire.


Posted by Frank, a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:29 am

On page 152, the busiest day (Feb 17th) in 2010 for the fire dept...because of the airplane crash in EPA and no power in PA.


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:48 am

Did anyone else read the report's recommendation on page 106 and thought it was kind of a cop out? The report suggests installing infrared detection systems to replace Station 8 and states, "The initial cost is unknown, but the city could probably partner with Stanford University's engineering department to develop the system."

"PROBABLY" partner? That's quite an assumption! What Engineering Department are we talking about...the School of Engineering? (When was the last time they were asked to design a life safety project?!) I think if I recommended creating a half-mile wide fire break that cut through the hillside, that would have been better thought out than this half-baked recommendation.


Posted by Dyann, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2011 at 6:35 am

Wow....combining two fire stations would mean at least the city would need to build a new one - unlike all the 1960-era stations we have now in the city. Have you ever seen your local station? You would think a city like Palo Alto would want state of the art services. I think the fire dept is used to being slapped down, because they've been treated poorly for years.


Posted by Art, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:50 am

In the recomendtion of combining station 2 and 5. Sell the land that station 2 and 5 are on. Use that mondey to buy property and build one new fire station.


Posted by Moved to Berkeley, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2011 at 9:39 am

Good Luck...

Come to Berkeley...

Where we funded a NEW Police and Fire Administration Buildings. Strengthened and rebuilt our fire stations. Built a strengthened and stand alone Emergency Operations Building. We have more ambulances... We built a new better located fire station in our foothills.

Wake up Palo Alto!

Station Five is built on the corner of a City Park and Station Two is built on land by Stanford University... {How are you going to make any money selling real estate that you won't or can't sell?}. SMOKE and MIRRORS

Read the financials... Because of past leadership, wisdom and vision... You have one of the most cost effective fire departments in California. You just need to hire someone who knows how to RUN a modern day FIRE DEPARTMENT! WHAT does Chief Burns or Santa Clara County know about Advanced Life Support Ambulances, advanced emergency medical services, fire and life services and disaster preparedness? Chief Burns has no experience with this? OOPS!

In the 70's Palo Alto, Stanford University Hospital, and the PALO ALTO FIRE DEPARTMENT started one of the first paramedic programs in northern California. You WERE leaders and you have let it all go by supporting the quality of leadership and decision making at city hall. Why not reclaim that leadership role?

Wake up! That's right, pay attention to more than bike lanes, cutting down trees and curbside recycling programs.

Pay attention to you Calls for Service. One of your residents {who lived about a mile from Station Five} just died at home from a heart attack after learning that someone had just burglarized his car WHILE HE WAS SLEEPING. Your police and fire departments couldn't save him. You need an improved fire department and police department - Chief Burns can only work with what YOU give him.

How are the firefighters, paramedics and police officers going to respond quickly to emergencies at a "merged fire station" when James Keane's employees keep building traffic modifications that most of the residents don't even support? My brother lives off of Arastradero Road and it takes him five minutes every morning just to creep out of his driveway on to the congested Arastradero Road {Another brainstorm of James Keane and company}.

Wake up Palo Alto... James Keane is out of integrity with his family and internal policies and procedures of the City of Palo Alto. Why are the local papers and elected members of Council concerned about Keane being out of integrity {Perhaps they are out of integrity!}.

Take care... Remember that you live on the San Andreas Fault... If you are truly concerned about Disaster Preparedness you would BE EXPANDING and ENHANCING your emergency response capabilities! A small plane crashed in East Palo Alto and the City of Palo Alto came to its knees and stopped! What's going to happen when the plane crashes in Palo Alto or there is another flood, large fire or earthquake?

Oh, that's right, the special camera installed at Foothills Park {another suggestion of the consultants} will protect you.

RIGHT! I was in the military! Boots on the Street will protect you! PERIOD! Are you watching CNN?

The PANDA's are going to protect you in your next disaster? Right! It took, FIVE BIG TALL Firefighters and Paramedics to carry my mother out of my brother's house recently.

YOU get what you pay for!

That's why we in Berkeley have funded additional taxes for our fire department Emergency Medical Services!

Then you get what you pay for! Pay attention to what you are paying for Palo Alto!

That, or you can follow me to Berkeley!

{{{Good Luck! You certainly need a great deal of it with your current council and city manager}}


Posted by Dr.D., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 10:04 am

Having spoken with many firefighters over the years and the retired fire chief, why doesn't the city council look into the cost of contracting with Santa Clara County Fire Dept. to see if this would be a better way to provide services.


Posted by A Palo Alto Firefighter, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2011 at 10:31 am

Some of these suggestions do make sense. Such as combining fire stations 2 and 5. Rearranging some upper managment positions and possibly having a Director of Police and Fire. However before this can happen our Department must first review some of our middle managment personal who seem to cause internal issues, from not showing up at meetings,to trying to have younger firefighters take care of this persons work, to not having the command experience to oversee a large emergency, and have been recognized as lacking the educational background.Complaints have been made to HR with no satisfactory outcome. Fire personnal are eager to see improvments but not at the risk of poor and weak leadership with no accountability for at least one induvidual who seems to be " untouchable". In order for us to improve we need trusted leadership at the helm.
If the homeowners in the station 8 area are not too concerned about foothill coverage then so be it. If contracting with Cal Fire seems a better solution then that is ok. Maybe it is time to look at the cost to contract with Sanat Clara County Fire Department to see if this would be cost effective and then the City would no longer need to worry about costs, and staffing,and maintenance of equipment.


Posted by Julius, a resident of Monroe Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

The proposed firestation relocation obviously increases the average response delay per resident, which is a step backwards overall.


Posted by Jared Bernstein, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:38 am

A map of our current fire stations (with these two circled) would be nice. Otherwise one has to find such a map online somehow. Please, Weekly, think of maps as a way to enhance your stories.


Posted by Retired Staffer, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:40 am

@ Moved to Berkeley

Fire Chief in Berkeley is Debra Pryor, former Operations Chief in Palo Alto. Another good one that got away.


Posted by JA3+, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:51 am

"Having spoken with many firefighters over the years and the retired fire chief, why doesn't the city council look into the cost of contracting with Santa Clara County Fire Dept. to see if this would be a better way to provide services."

+1; agree in full with Dr.D.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Why not look beyond combining call centers with Los Altos and Mountain View? Instead of going w/ county services - you can go with a regional district and still have some control over the department.

Menlo Park is a fire district that serves several cities/towns and does quite well at that...

Just sayn'...


Posted by Art, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm

The recommended location of a merged station (Hillview & Arastradero) is right on the border of Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills. The map of the Palo Alto city boundary in the consultant's report (see page 84) are WRONG ! Am I missing something here ? or is part of plan - already underway -to merge Palo Alto Fire Department coverage with neighboring cities?


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Too funny! Keene and Klein paid for and then got rid of the first consultants hired to evaluate fire services because they thought the consultants would be "biased" towards the fire department and then hire a new consultant and write the contract how they want their "biased" report to read. Why waste the money on outside consultants using the back door method and man up to taxpayers what you expect of a department and be a strong manager. At least taxpayers would have some respect for city management and council and would have saved the city close to $200,000. Note to CalFire supporters-please read Gov. Brown's recent reduction in force report of CalFire engine crews. Guess if you don't live in the foothills y'all figure it's someone else's problem.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Art, I see your point. I think the map is mostly right. But, the "Merged Station" is placed at Hillview and Miranda in the map on page 84, just north of the VA hospital. The text refers to the "Merged Station" at Hillview and Arastradero, which is quite a distance away, and as you say right on the border with Los Altos Hills. Seems like a pretty glaring error that needs to be fixed. Hopefully, someone will point this out during discussions with the consultants and get clarification.

Obviously whoever wrote this part of the report isn't familiar with south Palo Alto. The report says "Foothill Expressway provides excellent access to the areas currently covered by these stations." Anyone living in the area knows that access to both the Barron Park and Green Acres neighborhoods can only be made via Arastradero or El Camino. It would be good to know that the consultants took this fact into account when they made their response time estimates for the "Merged Station". Pretty sure they haven't accounted for the recent narrowing of Arastradero to one lane and the placement of traffic islands with signals that would further impact response times. A "Merged Station" could still make sense, of course, but I'm not comfortable with the analysis presented in the report for this scenario.

The description of the 911 Dispatch also contains another obvious mistake: PAFD operates on VHF radio as do virtually all departments from Gilroy to Daly City (even Santa Clara City simulcasts their 800Mhz trunked system on VHF) while the PAPD uses UHF. Not a huge deal, but it makes me question how through the research was in other areas of the report.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Joe, you're right. It would make much more sense to place the new station at the corner of El Camino & Arastradero than Hillview & Miranda. There's no easty vehicle access to Barron Park from that corner near Foothill. I wonder if they even visted the area?


Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 3, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Some of the report's ideas sound sensible (consolidation of PD & FD HR), some far fetched (IR sensors in the Foothills would be a great science project, but that's no where near mature enough to replace a fire station.

My BIG question is: Why do we need an endless stream of consultants to tell us what we should do? PA hired out of town consultants to evaluate our FD, then fired them half way through because of their track record (should we have hired a consultant to pick the consultant?). Now more consultants to evaluate the FD again. PA hired consultants to tell us how much electricity our neighbors are using. That one cost $574k (minus a $213k Fed grant, not that they've got extra money either). Still more consultants to take a poll on fountain designs, the results of which were ignored. Why do we need all this external expertise?


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Feb 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I think the idea of using PANDA/CERT for replacing Station 8 is not a good idea. These volunteers aren't trained in wildland operations - their fire supression knowledge is focused on using Fire Extinguishers. (Not to knock on these guys...PANDAs/CERTs are incredibly valuable when an earthquake happens, but that's in the urban setting...wildland is a whole new game....6 evening classes isn't going to prepare you for the dangers of wildland fires.) You could use PANDA/CERT as fire watchers I suppose, but they don't come near to being able to replace a manned fire station (be it Palo Alto or Cal Fire). The report correctly notes that PANDA/CERT volunteers are on the older end of the age spectrum...fitness ability is not factored into being a CERT volunteer. (Again, no big deal if you're a disaster volunteer, but it matters when you're tasked with protecting lives an area with high fire danger.) The report does suggest creating an Auxilary...but I would keep it seperate from PANDA/CERT. I think prospective members of this Auxilary would be required to pass a physical exam and academy (just like real firefighters have to do when they get hired on, albeit maybe the standards not as high). A "Fire Cadet" or "Fire Reserves" program are used by a lot of other California Departments, but offhand I can't think of any which are directly affiliated with the CERT/PANDA program.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

> I think the idea of using PANDA/CERT for replacing Station 8
> is not a good idea.

> wildland is a whole new game

Two-thirds of the fire-fighters in the US are volunteers. So, the sentiments expressed above have counter-examples. However, the difference is that most of the people who live in rural America who comprise these volunteer fire departments live outside urban areas, and are much more independent, and capable of thinking on their feet .. unlike the kinds of people living in highly urbanized areas. These are people who drive tractors, hunt, and see things in terms bigger than "sitting at a desk".

This doesn't mean that people in Palo Alto couldn't be trained, but it does mean that there is a lot of training that would need to be done before anyone could trust these PANDA people do do much more than talk.

And then there is the issue of liability. In an area like this, where there are more lawyers than people, it's hard to believe that any mistake a volunteer might make wouldn't see a billion-dollar lawsuit as a result.

This study is woefully shortsighted, since it does not look at how to combine the resources of all the local fire departments into a regional resource. Hopefully City Manager Keene will be pushing in that direction in the future.


Posted by Dave, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 4, 2011 at 9:15 am

Mark, your thoughts on the Panda/Certs is right on. I have observed these residents at training programs and have spoken with firefighters about them and what I have learned is this. This program is really somebody's dream to justify their job when it was developed. The firefighters have no faith in that they will be really capable of handling an emergency if it actually happeneds. Although these residents truly feel that they will be able to actually help none of them have been put to the test through a " surprise drill" to see if they can really handle the stress under pressure. Our firefighters on the other hand train very aggresively to handle ALL types of emergencies. The firefighters may not say it to the public but the feeling is they will probably get themslves in trouble and possibly get injured and then the firefighters will have to rescue them. If these Pandas want to help they would be good maybe as " gophers" to do paperwork or traffic control. You must remember that many of these citizens are homeowners who are bored, retired, maybe even trying to make believe that they are "super-people" and wives who have nothing better to do. many are college educated but still do not understand the true reality.Hey, if the Pandas can be effective then set up a surprise real world exercise like a major earthquke or fire or something else that really tests their skills to see if they can help.From the initial call to getting to their equipment to getting to the scene to being directed to do a certain task and then throwing in some "wrenches" to see how they react under pressure. Our firefighters train like this so should the Pandas since our tax dollars are paying for this. Who ever is running the program from the fire department should step up and put together a real trial test with the consulting of the firefighters. Ask the current Fire Chief. Ask the firefighters.


Posted by 50 plus year resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 4, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Dave,
Please post infront of your house a sign the says the folowing.
"Pandas
If i am trapped or injured please do not help.
I want to wait 4 to 7 days for the firemen."
you should read the after action by the San Francisco Fire Dept about Loma Prieta. While the total area of San Franciso theat was dameged was small they feal the need for their CERT program.

I have meet few Pands, now called CERT, that are what you said. They are people that if others need help they would like more training folks who will stay home and let others die. 32 fire men will have little effect in the nerghborhoods and the off duty will take a long time to come . They will try to come for the over time.

The idea or having CERT folks at fire station 8 included that they would need more training. Did you read that? You did not list that. I am not sure that I like the idea but I did read the whole report.

Part of the reason for combining stations 2 and 5 and cutting the mannig of Rescue 2 was so ALS coverage could be expanded. Far more people in Palo Alto have medical problems then have fires. I would rather have a few more houses burn doan but save more lives with better ALS coverage. Also we need to fix the dispatch delays.


Posted by Dave, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 5, 2011 at 10:06 am

To the 50 year plus resident of greenmeadow.
On all of your respones you really should talk with the Fire Chief and the firefighters. I have and I understand how the fire agencies operate. From the use of automatic aid to the needs of having at least 3 firefighters on each engine, that is my understanding from the National fire Protection Agency ( the bible of fire safety in the U.S. and Canada).
You probably mean well but you lack the necessary information. Don"t listen to me. Ask the people that do this work for a living. That's right, the Fire Chief and the firefighters. The City Manager is playing politics with the residents of our City. He is being childish and running off at the mouth and placing blame on high operating costs against the Police and Fire and not putting the blame on himself and the City Council for not managing their budgets and not putting money aside in reserves for such an event. It's too bad they did not learn from 2001, and our City Council are acting like sheep being led to slaughter. They need to educate themselves by talking with the Fire Department personnal. Both sides need to work together to come to an agreed solution.
Oh, and PS, I really do not care about San Francisco. I live in Palo Alto and need only care for our City employee's. So again lets see if the "CERT" people have what it takes under pressure or not. Seems simple enough. No hot air talking. Just the real thing. That way we as the taxpayers will know if the CERTS are capable under pressure or not.


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Feb 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm

50+ Resident...if you think that Palo Alto CERT can extricate you from a collapsed building, you are deluding yourself on their capabilities. I'm not trying to be coy or anything, but I honestly feel that while the program, while valuable for certain emergencies (think small fire that a fire extinguisher can handle), CERT has stated capabilities that are far exceed what they really can accomplish. City Council is very proud of CERT because it has the wonderful political talking points: Citizen Involvement! Civic Engagement! Nieghbour Helping Neightbor! (Also, it is relatively inexpensive to run.) However, in a real emergency, I really worry that their actual impact will be rather limited.

The problem with CERT-type programs is that (i) participation is voluntary, (ii) recurrent training is infrequent and recurrent training is not required to maintain CERT status, (iii) prospective volunteers are not screened, turned away or rejected, (iv) critical competencies are not fully evaluated (i.e. applicants do not typically fail the course). A seperate, dedicated Fire Reserves or Cadet program would be far superior to a voluntary CERT program as training can be much more strictly enforced.

We, unfortunately, have yet to have a disaster where it has been demonstrated that CERT type programs make a difference (San Francisco NERT was formed after Loma Prieta and has never been deployed in response to a major disaster).

I think what bothers me most about this report is that there are some good (some, in fact, great) recommendations, but there are also some really poorly thought out recommendations (IR sensors for wildland fire detection?!) that makes me question the validity of a lot of the report's recommendations.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm


> also some really poorly thought out recommendations
> (IR sensors for wildland fire detection?!

And why is this so poorly thought out?

A little Googling and we find that lots of people, and organizations, have been experimenting with these sorts of systems since the early 1960s:

Web Link

What's needed is a working model to test. Certainly testing out a couple of these systems with test fires might well give us some better felling of just how effective I/R monitoring of the foothills, and maybe here in Palo Alto itself, would be.

Time to get our heads out of the fire stations and starting thinking a little more "regionally".


Posted by Mark, a resident of University South
on Feb 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm

IR sensors could work if we had the MONEY. But when you have a consultant's report that doesn't bother to quote a price (think about how much heart ache we got from trying to build a new Public Safety Building) or doesn't even bother to assess the technological requirements, it raises red flags in my mind.

Getting back to the point about thinking "regionally" - I think CalFire, Santa Clara County Fire, Fire Department Reserves or even a private vendor as a replacement might be a better choice (economically and risk wise) than IR sensors.


Posted by Don't Move Station Five, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm

My goodness, what will Keane and Company come up with next to fix there mistakes...

Leave the firefighters, fire stations, police officers, public works workers, and the library workers alone. SEND ALL THE CITY HALL WORKERS, AND CONSULTANTS HOME!

Fire Station Five is well located for Barron Park residents, and is close to the schools in the area, the El Camino, Foothill Expressway, and the Industrial Park.

It's located next to a park, that we just used for a area disaster drill; doesn't it make more sense to have the firefighters close by a park we will use in a disaster? How will moving a fire station out of Barron Park assist our response time for medical responses?

Why are we discussing how emergency workers responded in San Francisco after Loma Prieta? The epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains... Why not consider earthquakes in Japan and the direct communities around them? The 1906 earthquake and fire that leveled San Francisco... Remember the tent cities in San Francisco? Perhaps it would be good to locate our fire stations in Palo Alto close to schools and parks and set these up to be secure safe areas for us after a major disaster.

Leave our neighborhood fire station alone. Why not contract out to Mountain View and use their City Manager; he seems to be much more effective than our last two or three City Managers. We could get rid our of City Manager and his staff and save our city about $ 2,000,000.00. Wait, we could contract out to Mountain View for their City Council too!

Isn't it interesting that the City Manager is not proposing limiting consulting services, reducing the size of his office, and reducing the size of our INFLATED City Council.

Reduce the size of City Hall!

Leave our fire station alone.

We are not prepared for a local or an wide scale local disaster in our community.

I would rather have my police officers and firefighters close by our homes, schools, parks and businesses.

Perhaps the people who run Google would be interested in helping us out! They have plenty of money to build monster houses in our community and give all their employees 10% raises in this current economy. Facebook is doing so well that they are moving out of Palo Alto.

Yes, something is fundamentally wrong with Palo Alto and it starts with the managers and elected officials in city hall.


Posted by Martininsocal, a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2011 at 9:48 am

I wouldl like to express my condolences to the citizens of Palo Alto. I grew up in Santa Cruz and always held Palo Alto and the area around Stanford in high esteem. It seemed like a place on the cutting edge of technology, and all that goes along with it. But apparently common sense does not accompany cutting edge and affluence. While other communities with 1/10 the assessed value and 1/20 the actual finances with twice as many people manage to fund and run successful fire dep[artments, you have managed to take the golden egg and lose it! Common sense says you do not spend $188,000 to staff a station that will respond to 17 calls for a total of 12 hours time. You do realize that each incident responded cost over $11,000? Or on a time basis (12 hours total) it cost over $15,000 an hour? Do you not see the issue here?
While it would be nice for everyone to have a fire station right next door, that isn't realistic, and believe me when I say that the study pulled information regarding calls, travel times, distance, type of incident, reoccurence, etc... and figured that relocating the 2 stations to a new location and reducing the staffing needed in a 2:1 reduction made sense. They don't just pull this stuff out of the air. After initial cost of construction, the ONLY costs associated with running the station on an annual basis are staffing and utilities and equipment replacement is based on a 20 year window. By reducing staffing and utilities from 2 stations to 1 will save easily over 1.5 million dollars on an annual basis. Having been in this business for over 25 years, I will make assumptions that response times to the areas in question with the new station location will still meet the desired less than 5 minute response time which falls within the NFPA guidelines.
One more thing, to those who seem to think that CERT members are the end all/be all. They aren't I am a federal USAR Task Force Member who has responded to national disasters. I also live where CERT members respond with local gov't. I have dealt with CERT as a first responder and as a local resident. Thinking that the folks at CERT who are taught how to turn off the gas lines during a disaster are going to extricate you from your collapsed home is like thinking the seasoned Citizens on Patrol are going to stop the bank robbery in progress with hostages taken. Keep dreaming.
I am fortunate to work where the fire department is regionalized and there are huge savings to all citizens through cost sharing and reduced duplication of services. Yes, some folks might complain about the limited loss of local control over some items, like decissions at the bargaining table, but in the end, they still receive lower cost fire protection that surrounding agencies and communities. Common sense says look at the big picture when making these choices, not just in your back yard, but that is what folks around the Bay area and the Coast are famous for, being NIMBYs.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2011 at 9:59 am

> IR sensors could work if we had the MONEY

This year's Fire Department budget is over $26M. Assuming a 4% yearly increase (typical of the recent past), the cost of running the Palo Alto Fire Department for the next 30 years comes to about $2.5B. The City can spend these billions paying firemen to not fight fires, or it can reorganize, and spend less. These same numbers can be found in surrounding cities/counties, depending on the actual size of the fire departments. Over the next 30 years, or so, it's not hard to believe that $75B-$100B will be spent funding fire departments in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

The fact that the consultant's report does not quote a price for I/R sensors is alright, for now. It would have been nice if the consultant had included the specs on a couple off-the-shelf systems as an appendix, but they didn't. If there is a fly-in-the-ointment here, it's that there aren't any off-the-shelf systems that can be readily purchased and installed--meaning a customized system might have to be designed and built if I/R were to be deployed locally.

However, there is no reason that the City Manager can't get another consultant looking into this. In fact, given that we have so many Fire Captains, Commanders and Commissioners all making over $150K a year, why can't they do the footwork researching this technology? [However, there are so many references to I/R sensors being used for fire detection via a Google Search (and in Google books), that it's hard to believe that a system could not be located fairly easily.]

> I think CalFire, Santa Clara County Fire, Fire Department Reserves
> or even a private vendor as a replacement might be a better choice
> (economically and risk wise) than IR sensors.

I/R sensors are simply intended to detect a fire in its early stages. It still has to be extinguished. How are wildfires detected by any of the organizations cited above now? I/R is a technology to reduce the number of "eyes" needed to recognize that a fire has started, nothing more.

The reason for suggesting a regional entity would be to utilize state-of-the-art fire detection equipment (cost sharing), and then having a larger pool of fire suppression equipment available, as well as firefighters, deal with the fire, no matter where it would be located in Santa Clara and/or San Mateo counties. The nature of such an organization is an open question. One would hope that over time, redundancies could be identified, and the size of the total firefighting force needed for the region reduced to provide significant savings to the taxpayers.



Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2011 at 11:09 am

Good progress on cost management recommendations for the Fire Dept. I like the suggestions on using technology. Now, if only they would do this with Utilities. Why are our water rates more than double that of neighboring cities, given that we all get water from Hetch Hetchy?


Posted by Retired Staffer, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Many of the surrounding communities only use small amounts of Hetch Hetchy power to augment well water. The cheapest way to obtain water is to dig a hole in the ground and suck it up.


Posted by Concerned in Foothills, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I am a resident of the Foothills There is no PANDA/CERT program up here, at least that we have ever been told about. The ones I have met in other areas are well-meaning folks, but went through training ages ago and have not been retrained or re-evaluated, so will be worthless in a real disaster. Ask the firefighters and policeofficers if you want the truth.

The fire department does not do us any favors by saying there are 900
PANDAs; that's the # they trained in the past decade, not who will actually
show up in an emergency. I know a few who went through the class who are
now deceased of old age, for example. Other posters talk about drills and
such, but we need to be realistic, based on our demographics. Also, if the fire department is incompetent to run PANDA, then I doubt they can turn it somehow into a volunteer fire corps, which is what you would really want.

I heard about this from the recent crime prevention meeting at Cubberley:
The Police Department changed the old neighborhood watch to the Block
Preparedness Coordinator Program to provide "eyes and ears" & this makes much more sense. Remember, crime is much more of a day to day risk than the earthquake or fire, although, of course, those could have a huge impact. The BPC
program information is here: Web Link

The city's website (dismal!) doesn't say much about this, but I found the
Council's Study Session from last fall, with Mr. Keene's signature on the
cover memo, which seems to lay out some practical things the community can
do to improve this topic:
Web Link

I hope the community will chime in and that we will be paid attention to.


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