Troubling safety issues in our fair city | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

By Diana Diamond

Troubling safety issues in our fair city

Uploaded: Sep 10, 2019

Palo Alto has to deal with certain safety issues. Specifically:

1) Where do we go for shelter if there’s a big emergency on our streets – or in the entire area? Let’s say, hypothetically, that there’s been a big gas explosion (think San Bruno) or a plane crash in the area that knocks out all electricity in town. Our cell phones are jammed with calls, no TV or Internet is available, and we don’t know where to go or what to do. So far Palo Alto’s Office of Emergency Services has done a great job describing how we should prepare ourselvesin our homes for an emergency (enough food and water for a week, flashlights, etc.) but I don’t know what to do if there is a big explosion. I once thought that we should go to our local fire stations but now I am told no, don’t do that. I know there are emergency kits and generators scattered in homes around town, but I don’t know where to find them. The city needs to develop and then designate shelters in town – for example, Palo Alto and Gunn high schools where large groups of people can gather and shelter, or all the churches along Middlefield Road, or City Hall or Mitchell Library so these places can be the main locales for assistance. This to me is a big need in our town, that I hope we will never need to use, but knowing there are shelters is a comforting thought and a necessary way to handle a big emergency.

2) Why does the fire department send out both a fire truck and a paramedic ambulance when any fire or health emergency call that comes into 911? It’s been a practice in town for years that if someone reports either a fire or a health emergency, the city sends out both a fire truck and an ambulance. It’s gone on for years, unnecessarily. Some nurses at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation said they call for a city ambulance to take a patient to Stanford Hospital and both a fire truck and an ambulance usually arrive. The fire personnel’s, including an EMT, checks things out and the fire truck turns around to return to the station. But surely the medical staff at PAMF knows they only need an ambulance to help with a patient with a heart attack or stroke get to the hospital. The same goes for calls from our homes – if someone reports a person has had a heart attack and she needs to get to the hospital, don’t send a fire truck, just get an ambulance.

I asked the new fire chief, Geo Blackshire, why the truck was needed, and he said there are more trucks than ambulances in town, and both are staffed with EMTs, so often the fire truck can get to the scene faster and the EMT can analyze the problem and the extent of services needed. Is that going to get an ambulance there faster?

I think some fire department padding has been going on. Years ago when Tony Spitaleri was fire chief, I was told years ago that the union wanted this coupling of truck and ambulance, because that would create a need for a bigger fire department staff to cover any emergency 24x7, and would guarantee more firefighter jobs

But times have changed now. Less than 4 percent of the 911 calls the city receives involve an actual fire – and of course, a fire absolutely needs trucks and paramedics. Most calls, however, are medical emergencies -- falls, accidents, elderly assistance and getting patients with a heart attack or whatever to the hospital. It’s time to rethink the staffing at the fire department -- practically, not politically – and determine whether fire trucks need to be at every 911 request for help.

3) Look up. Not down! Overhanging branches cover up street names, directional signs and even stop signs. Can the city do something about this? Trees are great, but it’s important that we see signs. I know of at least 15 streets in town where I can’t read their signs names because the tree leaves are covering them up. The city does so well in sending around sweepers, especially during the autumn months, to keep our streets leaf free, but it’s time to have city staff look up! We need to see our street signs. Maybe the city could set up a number where residents report if their street signs are hidden. Maybe we can hire Waymo drivers to list street signs they cant see and report it to city officials. It’s a relatively minor problem, but it would be nice to solve it. It’s a safety issue.