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Palo Alto firefighters push law to prevent layoffs

Original post made on Mar 17, 2010

Palo Alto's firefighters union is spearheading a new ballot measure that would keep the city from reducing the staffing levels at the Fire Department without voter approval.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 17, 2010, 2:02 PM

Comments (90)

Posted by Koa
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 17, 2010 at 2:17 pm

How can Spitaleri say with a straight face that there is nothing left to give when the AVERAGE Palo Alto firefight earns almost $180K a year?

Posted by concerned
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 17, 2010 at 2:31 pm

We need firefighters and teachers. To lay-off any of these folks would be a disaster. And here California Street is planning a renovation. How much is that going to cost? Use that money to pay the very people that are essential to our community. Look closely at wasted funding.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Just wondering, but why do all cities run their own fire departments? I would think it would make sense to me (a lay person) if the County ran the fire departments. Sharing resources, fewer administrators and an easier system to call in help from over the county on the few occasions that that help is needed must be reasons for making a county system instead of a city system a more streamlined service financially.

Posted by Henry
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

I agree with the above. We need firefighters and teachers. Firefighters do a wide range of activities to protect our home, business, environment and health. I certainly don't mind paying for the excellent paramedic service we have in town. We need teachers to ensure our future (kids and home value). I agree also with the necessity to evaluate luxury items such as California Stree fountain, farmers' market at Lytton Plaza, payment to San Mateo Chamber of Commerce, and etc. I think we should evaluate our airport operation to maximize its economic potential. The city current receives $1 per year from its operation.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Isn't it a vicious cycle to cut staff? Less staff = need for more overtime by current staff. More overtime pay = less savings. They need more staff and not less if the city wants to save money on paying overtime!

Posted by Bad idea
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

This is not a good idea. In countries like France, where laying off people is next to impossible, there is a big flip side: no hiring. We don't want to go there in Palo Alto.

We want to keep the flexibility to adjust staffing levels according to the means we have.

Can you imagine if we had to have a ballot every time with have budget problems in order to give the city the green light to cut expenses?

Bad idea all around, even for the fire-fighting department.

(And frankly this whole pension issue is getting a little bit annoying... I was hearing on the radio this morning that over half of the US population has less than $25,000 saved up for retirement. How is it that we owe our city employees guaranteed life-long platinum retirement income? This should change).

Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

If you want to go all the way, then let us determine what your compensation package is as well.

I'll vote for that.

Good times mask structural spending problems. The bad times expose them. Looks like we have to fix the problem, and trying to put up roadblocks isn't going to help.

Posted by Oldtimer
a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Before the city administration crips the public safety of the community it should investigate (Are you reading this, Mme. Auditor?) the TRUE cost of the money-eating SAP database.

Posted by Not kidding
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:55 pm

The law requires us to have too many firefighters anyway. I'll vote against this measure.

Posted by Andy
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 6:23 pm

To Not Kidding,

What is too many Firefighters? Palo Alto Firefighter staffing has not increase since 1976, yes I said 1976. But 911 calls have gone from 3000 (in 1976) to current almost 8000.
Another thing, show me the law that said we have to have so many Firefighters? There isn't one. Next time, do your homework.

Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 17, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Maybe we haven't increased the number of firefighters because the current ones make too much money as it is. Always happens with these types of contracts - it actually reduces employment.

Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 9:48 pm

> What is too many Firefighters? Palo Alto Firefighter staffing has
> not increase since 1976, yes I said 1976. But 911 calls have gone
> from 3000 (in 1976) to current almost 8000.

What's needed here is a little insight into this number. What exactly is the makeup of these calls? Data from the fire department suggests that less than 4% of these calls are for fires. Most everyone knows that there aren't very many fires in Palo Alto, so .. what are all of these "calls for service" all about? Since Palo Alto has become a retirement community, then there is every reason to expect that many/most of these calls are for Ambulance service.

How many people does it take to get someone into an ambulance? Does it take a fire rig (or two) to take someone to the hospital? Probably not .. but nonetheless, it's very often that a fire rig (big pumper) shows up and the four (or so) union firemen stand around .. maybe doing something .. maybe not .. while the EMTs get the person off to the hospital.

It's very clear that the Unions have "negotiated" this need for maximum attendance at a call out .. whether it is needed or not.

If Palo Alto were to cease providing ambulance service, this 8000 number (if it really is true) would evaporate.

This is another example of how labor unions kill everything that they touch.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2010 at 11:10 pm

John, in these days of good fire codes and improved construction, most of the calls are medical for any Fire Department. This is true nation-wide. Palo Alto recognizes that and uses paramedics on their first on scene fire engines which usually arrives in just minutes upon 9-1-1 calls getting in. (Ambulances take longer because there are only two in Palo Alto from the Fire Department and the back ups come from other parts of the county through a private provider.)

These minutes count when someone's heart has stopped (without a defibrillator chances of survival decrease 10% every minute until a shock is given), has a stroke (you must get to a hospital within 3 hours of symptoms onset to get clot busting drugs...most people call late), a heart attack (survival is best if you can get to the angioplasty lab within 90 minutes of symptoms starting) and trauma (the "golden hour" says trauma patients need to arrive at a trauma center within an hour for the best chances of survival). Paramedics who get there first and early can get the ball rolling to save lives. A complicated medical call requires an entire critical care team, which the fire department can do with an engine and an ambulance. (One firefighter controls the airway and ventilates, another one does CPR, the paramedics gets IV access and gives meds, another medic monitors the EKG and gets ready to put a tube into the lungs and the captain is recording everything that is done.) It may seem like a lot of people on scene but everyone is doing something...if it was my loved one I would want that team there!

Check out to see what the system is like. The number of calls can be crazy busy! You might also consider asking your local fire station if you can do a ride-along to see what they "really" get. You just might walk away impressed! :)

Posted by Palo Alto Fire Capt.
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 17, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Last year after 20+ years in the fire department, as a senior fire captain, I earned $35.90 per hour. We work 56 hours per week before we earn our first hour of overtime. When you hear a firefighter is making "a big salarly" please remember they did it at a realtively low hourly wage and sacrificed hundreds if not thousands of extra hours away from their families to do it. Much of our overtime was mandatory, meaning we were not wanting to be at work, but were not allowed to go home in order to provided adequate coverage. Our fire department cost each household about.80 cents per day. What the newspaper is not telling you is that the Stanford University pays 1/3 of the total fire department budget for contract services. Additionally our Paramedic services bring in a signficant amount of revenue that goes directly to the city "General Fund" and not the fire department. You will not find another fire department providing our level of service for less. Yes, we can close or "brown out" fire stations but is it really worth it for such a small savings? Last week my crew performed CPR on a front lawn of a residence for 17 minutes before we could get an ambulance. Why, because we have inadeaquate resources after 7:30 pm. An independent Standards of Coverage study and EMS study will be forthcoming soon. We are pretty confident it will actually show we are understaffed for our call volume and diversity of incidents. We want the citizens to have a say in the level of service they want. The ballot petition you may see us asking you to sign will simply put that decision in your hands whom we serve...

Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

> A complicated medical call requires an entire critical care team,
> which the fire department can do with an engine and an ambulance.

The cost of this is unsustainable. What is needed is better analysis of the actual calls and see how many of these calls might actually involve the need for more than just a transport. Having a database of people who are likely to need this sort of care would reduce the uncertainty.

If a different kind of ambulance is needed, then it is time to review the actual needs of a first response and to design a better ambulance, or a support vehicle that is smaller than a fire rig but carries whatever is needed (oxygen, secondary electrical generation, backup radio, medical supplies, etc). Of course, it would help to have data on the table that justifies this sort of expense. The Palo Alto Fire Department has been atrocious at providing the public data about its operations .. almost criminal in their disdain for public access to their data.

> You just might walk away impressed!

As a former member of the military .. I doubt I would be impressed by anything the PA fire department does.

And what about other locales that use private ambulance services. Do they have a fire rig rolled for every transport request? Does every in other places die due to the lack of hardware on the scene?

Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

> I earned $35.90 per hour. We work 56 hours per week before we
> earn our first hour of overtime. When you hear a firefighter is
> making "a big salarly" please remember they did it at a realtively
> low hourly wage and sacrificed hundreds if not thousands of extra
> hours away from their families to do it.

And your point is? Anyone who has ever worked in Silicon Valley (particularly in start-ups) usually puts in at least 60 hours a week (or more) .. with anything over 40 hours as unpaid overtime. Failure to "contribute" these unpaid overtime hours can result in the company's failing.

While a small number of people have "hit it big" with stock options .. most people lose their jobs when companies go bust. Over 200,000-400,000 people have lost their jobs over the past decade in the Greater Bay Area. The outsourcing to Asia started in manufacturing in the mid-80s, and has continued into the 90s/00s in the design/development side of the house. How many fire department employees have lost their jobs in the past decade in the Greater Bay Area?

Most people working in the Silicon industry have a BS/MS or above. What is the educational requirements for a Fire Department entry-level position?

> What the newspaper is not telling you is that the Stanford
> University pays 1/3 of the total fire department budget for
> contract services.

Let's see .. hmmm .. if we didn't have this contract, then the fire department would not have hired these employees, right? Or are you claiming that the Department would have hired these positions anyway?

By the way, do Sr. Fire Department captains have to take any mathematics, or logic, to attain these positions? Moreover, it's not clear the the City actually negotiated the "full cost" of these positions, based on CalPERS not able to produce a constant 8% on their investments, and the city government now having to pay upwards of $30M in post-retirement benefits from the General Fund. We may find in the coming years that Palo Alto has been undercharging Stanford, and that the taxpayers have to make up the difference between all of the costs to hire a fire fighter to service Staford (primarily) and what Stanford has been paying.

> our Paramedic services bring in a signficant amount of revenue
> that goes directly to the city "General Fund" and not the fire department.

Excuse me? Are you saying the the Fire Deparment is not a part of the City Government? The city's budget actually shows that balance sheet for the fire department, and that money is logged against the fire department's "account'. No doubt excess money is transferred to the General Fund. The only purpose for running an Ambulance Service is to make money, in either the public or private sector. It would be nice if the city saw it as a humanitarian service .. but it doesn't.

And what do you think that the Fire Department would do with this money if it was "given to them"?

> You will not find another fire department providing our level
> of service for less.

Oh, please .. assertion is not proof! Post a little data ..

It's astounding how much misinformation this poster, claiming to be a Sr. Fire Captain, has provided to the public.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2010 at 12:56 am

Hi John,

Yes, all other fire department agencies in the State and local area I'm aware of serve as medical first responders when a 9-1-1 call comes in. This is typically called a dual response system. (Fire first responder + ambulance). What Palo Alto does isn't really any different to what most fire agencies do across the nation.

Regarding equipment, you should keep in mind that in Santa Clara County, the required equipment is actually dictated by the local Public Health Department (who manages all emergency medical services agencies here) in addition to DMV regulations. In fact, a smaller support vehicle for paramedic responses (some call this a quick response vehicle) is required to carry the SAME equipment as a paramedic fire engine according to the county public health department! Palo Alto can't decide not to carry something just because it doesn't get used very often if that's what the county governement requires. We'd be back to the days of Mother, Jugs and Speed without these regulations. (Interesting movie to watch incidentally if you have Netflix.) If anything, with bigger advances in technology and research in the pre-hospital settings, fire departments are being expected to carry more medical equipment and do more medical procedures.

Having said that, you're right John that getting some better data for public consumption would help citizens make an informed decision. I think a lot of frustration comes from citizens who don't get a chance to fully understand what the public safety agencies do day to day. It's like being on a airline flight I suppose...I THINK I know what the pilots are doing behind the cockpit door since the plane is flying...but I haven't a clue how many different tasks they have to do just to achieve that feat, their schedules, retirement, etc. (I vote to pay regional airline pilots more than less after that terrible Comair crash though!)

Posted by Lets Vote on Pay and Benefits Instead
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 2:32 am

I agree with the previous commenter-- How about putting firefigthers ludicrous average compensation packages of 180K (+ generous pensions) to a vote. If we could cut these by 1/3 (Which would still be a very generous package by normal (i.e. private sector) standards we could hire plenty more firefighters without spending a single extra penny.

Most of the Palo Alto City Council is totally in the pocket of the Unions. It's time for new leadership in this city

Posted by evolution
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:27 am

Anytime we remove flexibility in hiring or wages, we remove the ability to respond to our times...

very,very bad evolutionary idea, be it in biology or economics.

Posted by get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:59 am

What next? A ballot each time they want to change the library opening times? This will never pass.

Posted by Wife of a Palo Alto Firefighter
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:01 am

I have read all of the above comments, and frankly I am outraged.

How many of you have a spouse who gets to come home every 5-6 days to see his/her children, only to turn around again and do it all again 2 days later.

How many of you get to go to work and scrape brain-matter off the railroad tracks, or retrieve a child from the bottom of a pool.

While you are snuggled warm in your bed for a restful night of sleep, someone in your city is calling 911 for a "cough due to cold".
Lets discuss a little more self-reliance Palo Alto!

How many of you know elderly retired firefights?
I know no one over the age of 63. You talk of this huge "life-time" pension. They are lucky, (and not the norm) to see their 60th birthday. Many retirees die young due to cancers caused by exposure.
My husband retires in 6 years. Our girls are 7 and 5 years old. Every night the 3 of us say a prayer to keep Daddy and his crew safe.
When we do see his car come home, and he has made it through one more shift cycle, and I can breathe a sigh of relief.

I know I signed up for this life of being a firefighter's wife. But until you live the life, or know someone close to you who does, you have no business calling them to the mat.

I DARE YOU to do the job for even one shift, and then sit back down to your computer and we'll see what you have to spout about then!

Posted by wife of a Palo Alto firefighter
a resident of University South
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:08 am

After posting, I re-read my above comment, and want to appologize to anyone affected by the train accidents. That was a poor example to use, and I am desperately sorry for using it.

Posted by GougedAndOutraged
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:11 am

Palo Alto residents need to wake up and band together against this blatant example of public employees feeling of entitlement.

For the lady that is the wife of a retired firefighter: madam, remember that your husband's [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] pension is being paid by current taxpayers, most of whom have no pensions of their own. As far as your asking about hours of work, most of us work between 60 and 80 hours a week - without overtime and with no guarantee that our companies will exist or that our jobs wont be outsourced.

The days when a public employee was entitled to a pension in exchange for a lower wage are gone. Public employee wages are now comparable to private sector wages. On top of that there is overtime and a guaranteed pension and now the same public employees also want a guarantee against layoff! Who is paying for this other than the residents of the city? Residents, wake up and dont let this pass.

Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:26 am

Unfortunately, California is suffers from periodic natural disasters. Staffing is necessary in order to cope with these events when they occur. The fire service also provides support for law enforcement such as rescue, building invasion on upper floors, area lighting, etc. In my area, which is served by the County Fire Department, a full-sized pumper responds to medical calls along with the police and private ambulance. But the big concern is unpredicable natural disasters.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 10:58 am

I don't know the calculations - but somewhere there must be a break-even point between hiring more firefighters (at a presumably lower overall wage/benefits because of no overtime) vs. paying so much overtime.

And to those who seem to be a little too grouchy about all of this. At what level wage would *you* be willing to risk your life for others on a daily basis. Or how much are you will pay someone to show up at your door in the middle of the night and give you CPR to save your life? Don't give me, "they knew the risks when they took the job" argument. Tell me how much we would have to pay you to risk your life for someone else. Be honest.

Posted by ag
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

I am also outraged by the comments here. I am not the wife of a firefighter, but I appreciate the hours and the hard work that they put in, not to mention the fact that their lives are on the line every day. The Palo Alto Fire Dept (and their paramedics) saved the life of a dear family member a few years ago after a horrible car accident. As a taxpayer, I am willing to pay what it takes to keep a first-class fire department.

Posted by get real
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 11:34 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Radar
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2010 at 12:21 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mayfield Child
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 18, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Just look at any Palo Alto fireman and you will see a BEAUTIFUL fit body, ready to spring into action in any emergency........

Pay these men what they are worth. We live in a town of people who may be brain smart, but physically unable to handle an emergency if called upon...........

No mention of all the hazardous jobs that they, I'm not referring to licensing bikes, either. How about all the toxic waste that they come across, the rooftops that they climb onto, and so much more... plus dealing with the emotional stress of each situation and the persons that they encounter..!

BEING disabled, no way could I run around and pick up as much as a garden hose to put out a fire, one that would probably get out of control..(what would I be thinking to attempt it, anyway?) 911 is a vital lifeline.
I urge you to have respect for these men (women) in the fire dept. Someday you may need them..............................

Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Firefighters, police and other city workers all choose their jobs. Nobody makes them. This is not a 1960s-70s military where there was a draft and people had no choice.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

It is really hard for me to buy all the hardship stories. In reality it is all marketing to gain support and make negotiations for compensation and conditions go well.

And it looks like it works.

Posted by citizen
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm

This act is political grandstanding. It's insisting that voters determine staffing levels; that's Ok with me as long as we determine pay and overtime rules. See the problem? The reason for this initiative is to take away collective barganing from the city and put it in the voters hands, where presumably they will be more sympathetic; In this economy, as we've seen from the comments above, we'd probably have lots of people who would work for the wages, benefits and overtime of a fire fighter. So why not just use the collective process and deal with the City people as opposed to the voters.

I say If it goes on the Ballot, then put wages and overtime rules up for a vote. Otherwise let's let the city negotiate with the firefighters.

Posted by rational
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 18, 2010 at 4:57 pm

To ag, who is willing to pay whatever it takes to keep a top notch firefighter dept..are you willing to double your taxes? Pay 70% of your salary?

Let us know you limit, ok?

To Firefighter wife..I wouldn't start comparing "hardships" of having a spouse who does this or that..too many of us have spouses working 60-80 hours per week, and/or gone Sun night through Friday night in travelling to keep their job, and/or are married to military, police, etc.

These are choices we made when we married, and we don't complain about it...unless there was a massive shift in your spouse's career without your consent after your marriage, you knew what you were getting.

Nobody is dissing your husband's career, or downtalking anything. It is a matter of what can the taxpayer bear, and for what are we willing to pay? Should we have 10,000 firefighters on staff, or 1? Should we pay each 100,000,000/year, or a $1/year? Should we each pay a 1% tax of our salary, or 99%?

If you ask these questions in the extreme, it may help you understand the rational discussion aspects.

But stop taking these comments is not about the value of a human's job, but about the cost-benefits..

Posted by Behind the Times
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:22 pm

It's time Palo Alto reduced the number of fire stations, we have too many. They were built in the 1950s. Other cities have larger centrally located fire station. Palo Alto needs to bring it's Fire Department up to modern standards.

Posted by police
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 18, 2010 at 5:45 pm

get rid of too many polkice. they dont do anything but harass low riders and casual people who do not look rich.

Posted by tony s
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Any time they open up firefighter applications, thousands of applicants line up to apply. Tell me that lowering the entrance wages by half wouldn't attract the same thousands of applicants in this down economy.
I understand that firefighters perform dangerous work and have the opportunity to perform truly heroic acts. That's great, but our other city departments do great work too. My kids need the libraries, parks, streets, etc. too. Should we eliminate all these services so Firefighters can keep earning an AVERAGE 180K per year? What kind of city would we be left with?
I understand that they work 56 hours per week, but how much of that is spent sleeping at night or shopping at our grocery stores during the day?
Many in Palo Alto are unemployed and if they are working, wonder if they're getting a pink slip this Friday. The firefighters union is really pushing the issue of "cut someone else's pay" and missing the boat here. Time to show you really care about us citizens and do the right thing. Lower your cost of business like every other company is doing in our community.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2010 at 7:20 pm

This whole thing is absurd.

As a City employee not in the fire department this is really irritating.

All of the City Employees sacraficed last year to try and close the budget gap, oh except the fire fighters.

All of the City departments are experiencing significant cuts, oh except the fire department.

By the way, do we have enough fire fighters. I'm not sure, but I know we have over 30 of them asleep here in town every night. You can decide that for your self.

Can we really continue to afford to staff the City with enough fire fighters to handle a couple fires every night when the reality is we only have a hand full of real fires every year. Lets be real.

Posted by Tim
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 7:51 pm

To Reality Check,

Your NOT a city employee. Because if you were, you would know that ALL departments last took significant cuts, even the Fire Department.

Posted by opus
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:46 pm

the great thing about the weekly's "open forum" is that anyone can claim to be anybody and with no accountability. why work yourself into a frenzy over anonymous posts that are concocted by lonely posters who only seek affirmation by other lonely posters.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:28 pm

So Tim,

You want to claim a major cut that you gave up a position that had been vacant for years.

Oh please. Be real.

Lets see what the fire department give up this year.

Posted by Greedy
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I look forward to voting against this proposed law.

Posted by Long Time Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 19, 2010 at 8:34 am

The union chief was quoted as saying:
"People should have a say in these reductions."

We do; through our elected officals, the City Council. That's why we elect them. Let them do their jobs.

I agree, this proposal is absurd. Firefighters do a great service for the community. However, firefighters need to keep in perspective that they cannot be a "protected class" immune from the fiscal realities of our City's budget.

Posted by Everyone Needs to Share the Pain
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 19, 2010 at 9:46 am

Lets be real here.

The Firefighters just like all the other City functions need to make some smart decisions on reducing expenses and trimming services. All the other City Employees took cuts last year except for the fire fighters.

However, rather than have a productive conversation about smart reductions, they want to exempt themselves from the same treatment as everyone else.

Lets face it, Palo Alto has more fire stations than any other City of similar size. I know I'm going to hear the crys now that they have Stanford and SLAC and they have this or that. Forgetting all the extra, they still have more basic fire stations exlcuding Stanford and SLAC and anything else they want to claim.

As for the Captain above who makes $39.00 an hour, thats a load of garbage. Don't be fooled by the hour wage junk. Look at what they make each year. Yes the hourly wage is broken down to a lower figure because they are at the station for 24 hour shifts. Most of us go to work for 40 hours a week and actually have to work for 40 hours a week. They go to work for 56 hours a week. While they are there they work as neccessary. They also get to SLEEP, they work out, they wash there cars, they eat, they watch TV, they do all kinds of other things when they aren't responding to calls. Focus on the yearly compensation.

I would love to get paid $39.00 an hour to sleep. Sweet deal.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 19, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Wife of a Palo Alto Firefighter, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:01 am

"I have read all of the above comments, and frankly I am outraged.

How many of you have a spouse who gets to come home every 5-6 days to see his/her children, only to turn around again and do it all again 2 days later."

Get real! No one has a gun to you or your husbands head, feel free to look elsewhere for employment. It isn't like the job is some kind of mystery; you are aware of the lifestyle before you sign up, and can voluntarily walk away at any time. Meanwhile there are millions of unemployed Americans who would be happy to do the same job for less than half of what PA firefighters are apparently currently making.

Posted by just the facts
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm

For those questioning the cuts that the fire department is or have taken, review the proposed budget cuts presented to Council in January.

The Fire Department proposes eliminating an entire division that served the community. Emergency preparedness give classes on preparedness, training on response as well as planning and training for the employees response during disaster.

Additionally, they have frozen several positions that will not be filled.

That is a significant cut. The firefighters needed for day to day as well as significant events barely meet the requirements for the City. How often have they had to bring in mutual aid from County or Menlo Park?

The department has been cut to the bone, with nothing left to give. Hopefully, public safety will remain an important component.

Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Palo Alto has about 60,000 people and has 31 firefighters on duty each day. They respond to about 7500 calls per year with 7 engines, 1 aerial truck, 1 rescue and 2 ambulances (daytime).

Santa Cruz city has 60,000 residents and has 12 firefighters on duty each day. They respond to about 7000 calls per year with 3 engines and 1 aerial truck.

Pretty hard to convince anyone that Palo Alto is "understaffed"...

Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Just to clarify: Even if you remove PAFD Engine 7 and its 3-person crew from the equation - since they are committed to SLAC - you still have 29 FFs in Palo Alto during the day.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I too, look forward to voting against this issue. This is more about union power than providing adequate services to the residents of PA. If the firefighters get away with this then you can bet the police dept. will be next in line to grab for more union power.

The firefighters really have an inflated sense of self importance. They are all expendable and replaceable. There are thousands of people just as capable who would be willing to work for a lot less compensation.Their union is what allows them to maintain the status quo, not their talent.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Just Google most dangerous jobs and you'll find this. 1. fishermen 2. Logging 3. Aircraft pilots 4. Iron workers 5.Farmers/ranches 6. Refuse and recyclable materials collectors 7. Roofers 8.Electric power line installers 9. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers 10. Taxi drivers. Firefighters aren't even in the top ten. The firefighter's union has done a great job of grooming a very sympatheitc image. Don't fall for it.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 19, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Palo Alto has five fire stations- Stations 6 and 7 are on Stanford University property and are completely paid for by Stanford.

Posted by joseph
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2010 at 3:18 am

There is a lot of good work being done by the Fire question about it. BUT...unlike "just the facts" mentioned above they indicated...the Fire Dpartment gave up an entire division." Do you really want to mention that that "divison" was one perosn? The Fire Department didn't give up crap as far as any "feasible" cost saving suggestions go to trim the budget. The utilities Department, Public Works Community Servies...and even the Police Department union forgo a negotiated raise to help the city save money. They ended up saving the City almost $800,000 last year. From what I heard, the Fire Department was going to forgo their raise...then retracted there offer. hmmmmmm.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2010 at 10:04 am

Just to set the record straight on the fire unions offer last year to give up their raise.

It was never a free and clear offer. All along they offered to forgo their raise but only if the City didn't change the medical benefits for SEIU. So this was really self preservation for the fire fighters and they never really planed to give it up but it sounded good in front of the public and the Council.

And the writer above is correct, when they offered to give up a division of one, really wow. It's also a division they know the Council won't touch. Just like ever year when they offer to not staff Station 8 in the foothills knowing the offer will never be accepted and there will be a huge outcry from the residents.

When will they actually look at some constructive restructuring in the department, trimming services, trimming compensation, and perhaps sharing resources with other agencies to reduce the need for over 30 fire fighters in town all day everyday for that big one.

Oh by the way that 7000 calls per year number is also bogus. It's lower than that and most the calls they go on are medical calls.

Ask them how many actually full blown fires they have each year to keep 30 fire fighters around for. Most small fires are out when they arrive.

Then we can take them seriously.

a resident of Stanford
on Mar 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Reality Check

I hear your lack of belief in the Fire Department. But it has never been said that we have responded to 7000 "fires" but "calls", which does include medical incidents. Medical incidents are the majority of any cities emergency response. To discount them out of hand lacks the sensitivity to those having them. As my elders would say "Keep on living", then dedice the importance of emergency medical service. We don't decide which "calls" are more important than one another it is just a "call". "Full Blown Fire"(whatever that means to you)rarely happens here, True! But, its only due that the Department responds quickly and prevent it from becoming "Full Blown".

I would like to thank the Firefighters Wife for her comments. Reality Check is want you desire, this is one. Her Perspective is not complaint but her Reality Check. As is yours Reality Check. Perspective is needed by all not the lack of it. We, under fire by some of you understand the needs of this City very well, but we choose to be in this city ,here, loving our jobs not complainting. We do them with pride, community ownership and respect of the citizens that live here.

Let us both understand the other perspective and not close our minds to it.

Thank you

Posted by EMS personnel
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 20, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Reality check, I'm sure those guys out there hope for a mindless warehouse fire when you compare it to the EMS aspect. Being in the private EMS industry I get to work along side with the fire department day in and day out. I have made a few buddies over at Palo Alto Fire and let me tell you they are some of the greatest guys you'll ever meet. EMS and Fire are very similar so I'm going to explain it with an emphasis on EMS which is fitting since a high majority of the call volume is EMS related. 7000 calls is doable, in fact I think thats low, at a previous small ambulance company I used to work at we averaged 8000 calls a year with 50 employees, aprox 30 on each day, 6-10 on each night. Let me explain two things to you, firstly the stress related to working with sick people, and the stress involved in 24 hour shifts.

Sick people- EMS calls are tiring, every time you finish a first response or an even more difficult, transport, you are drained. What is a huge deal for some individuals day and or life is just a hiccup in our day and I know Palo Alto Fires Paramedics have an aprox call volume of 4-10 calls in a 12 hour period. (my knowledge from working along side them) And a full arrest with 4-7 hands on board is just as tough as the lonely elderly man who tried to hurt himself minutes before you go through the door, or the kid who broke his wrist and can't play in his/her local league for the remainder of 4th grade. Some emergencies big, some small, but all taxing in different ways. Just remember these men and women are professionals, medically trained to at least EMT, a large portion Paramedic (which is rare for a department, but a nice touch) They are race car drivers, they are ER staff, public safety officers (just like police) they fight fires, they can handle hazmat, and thats just to name a "few" of the things they can do. Being a professional though its not all fun and games. For every call I do and they do what are called PCRS (patient contact reports) call logs, Incident reports... etc... all of which take hours of time.

24 hour shift- Someone mentioned earlier they get paid to sleep and how lucky they were. Try working a 24 hour shift on an ambulance, or fire truck. I dare you! Many partners, friends and ultimately my brothers have had all sorts of psychological, and physical issues due to extensive sleep issues over the years. Its one thing to get paid to sleep, but you never get adequate sleep, psychologically your brain never turns off. I've done 24 hour shifts where I got a whole 12 hours of sleep in and proceeded to go home and sleep another 12 hours. Closing your eyes and laying down on the couch is different from getting into bed at the end of the night. I have 2 minutes after a ear damaging squelch over the radio, to throw on my uniform, boots, gather my personal belongings on myself and get to the ambulance, start it up start my radio and get going. Try that at 2 in the morning in the middle of winter (its not as easy and anyone that says otherwise needs to try it) Often times personal life is affected, sleeping patterns change, weight gain, depression... etc.

I'm not saying pity me or pity the firefighters. We choose to do what we do because we are good at it. We are of a certain breed that most people don't realize but whom they could never emulate. On that note the fact is for what EMS and fire put into the community and for the job we do it is often times unappreciated. I'm not one to usually respond and my post tonight has been unedited, grammatically lacking, but all of which has been true from the heart. I know with the fire department there are alot of politics, and in the private sector we make fun of them all the time. I have no problems with people having constructive argument in an online forum, but leave the individuals and their career alone. As an EMS professional myself I only have the utmost respect for firefighters, without them I couldn't do my job.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Obviously you are all missing the point.

No one is questioning the job fire fighters do. You are all trying to justify how hard it is or how much you have to work or how little you get paid. Were just calling you out on your issues and pointing out the obvious (24 hour shifts, 10 days a month, more fire personnel in PA than like Cities even including SLAC and Stanford, etc. etc.)

As with all of us City employees you work hard, get paid well, and have excelent benefits.

Unlike the rest of the City employees, you are not trying to fix the problems.

We took pay cuts last year, you didn't.

Our departments took significant cuts, yours didn't. As a matter of fact our departments had to take bigger cuts because your didn't and your folks wouldn't give up their raise.

Our departments are facing dramtica cuts this year, your trying to exempt yourself.

Theres a theme here.

We will all be impressed when you actually constructively talk with the City about REAL cuts within the department and join the rest of the City with salary and benefits reductions. Were already down from last year so you have some catching up to do.

But actually, I encourage you to go forward with the ballot measure. The voters in PA will crush your efforts and then the City will be able to do what they need to do after you get rejected. Your actually helping the City out.

Posted by tony s
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Palo Alto firefighters are indeed very good at what they do and they are dedicated to doing a good job every day, I'm sure. The problem is that our community is suffering right now due to this economic downturn and all we're asking is that our firefighters care about us and do their share to help us get through this tough time.
None of us are any more special than others; we all need to help, and that means we need to reduce the cost of our government. Palo Alto is a great city in which to live because of our parks, libraries, police, utilities, and other city services. They're all important. C'mon, firefighters, show us you care about us by doing your part!

Posted by who
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Firefighters or EMS personnel are not special people - many people are qualified and turned down to do those jobs.

The union artificially keeps firefighter compensation way out of line.

EMS needs to quit blowing smoke up his and firefighters' ass - implying firefighters are super-natural; they are not and should not be compensated as if they were.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 20, 2010 at 11:08 pm


Santa Cruz population is 56,124. Daytime population increases by +7,797.

Palo Alto population in contrast is 59,395 . Daytime population increases by +47,707.

Palo Alto Fire runs two ambulances, whereas Santa Cruz does not.
The two departments are not really comparable...

Posted by EMS personnel
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 21, 2010 at 12:56 am

In response to who, that is my point exactly. You have an opinion, while my own opinion is on the fence. (working in private industry I do a similar job and make half as much) I don't knock on people just because they have a better situation. I am one of those qualified people, that given the right channels and with my resume probably, could work for a fire department here or in the surrounding areas. I choose to work transport because its personally more appealing (i like the home to hospital and everything inbetween aspect instead of just first responder). Do I wish I could make as much? Have a retirement plan/compensation? Yes, but I'm not going to dock on someone that has it. Infact I think you should have one as well, so should everyone on this forum. Lets think about how we can efficiently save money without taking away. I'm sorry that anyone in palo alto's public realm had to "sacrifice" I think thats wrong. I don't care if you are a librarian, street sweeper, or a firefighter. My point was and is that we should keep the debate productive and realistic, don't throw personal attacks at a fire cheif (be it real or not) who wrote on this forum earlier explaining his side of the story, or the wife of a firefighter. I'm not "blowing" smoke up me or anyones ***, I'm just sharing my opinion in comparison to what some other folks had put up earlier. We don't sleep on the job, or what i would call "adequate" sleep, and firefighters don't just fighter fires they prevent fires and are active participants in EMS. I'm sorry if I've offended you in any way, but I want you to go to sleep tonight knowing that if anything were to happen to you, I don't care that you made a personal attack, I'll still be there at 2 am in less then 15 minutes, and the fire department will be there in less then 8.

Posted by EMS personnel
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Mar 21, 2010 at 1:14 am

In regards to Santa Cruz, they have a few other departments/agencies that provide both public safety, and emergency response that are not factored into the equation. Many of the beaches have state rangers that share roles of law enforcement/EMS/safety officers. While their jurisdiction is limited, they can and will be requested for aid. The city also has life guard services that perform on a BLS level (EMT first response) and many of these life guards are on 24 hour "volunteer" "reserve" in the case of an emergency, or marine rescue with the fire department. As an additional note Santa Cruz county has Calfire (state) in the surrounding unincorporated areas. While its apples to oranges since we don't have open water in Palo Alto, it is clear that their response system tailored to their individual needs (which is going to change drastically city to city) works for them, just like ours works for us.

Posted by jake
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

It would be nice if the facts were presented and then the powers at be could make informed decisions. I see a lot of comments posted here that appear to rely on information presented by the City Manager or the local papers, most of it is simply not fact.
First off, while most every department in the City grew through the years, the FD did not. It actualy got smaller while other departments exploded and added managers. Now after the FD took deep cuts, fewer firefighters in Palo Alto than in the early 1970's.
The number of calls has increased from about 1,000 or 1,500 then to almost 8,000 today. How many other departments had an increase in service demand in the 600% levels? So now every department is expected to take the same level of cuts? did the fire dept increase in size and staffing like the other departments? NO.
The City is also not telling the public that Downtown Palo Alto often has no firefighters or paramedics in the Downtown area. FireHall 1 is often vacant, it's crews are somewhere else in the City or outside the City all together on another emergency.
Gambling with life and property is taking place right now by your elected officials and City Manager. Most of the calls are in the downtown area but it has almost no resources in the FireHall.
The firefighters will tell you if asked that the Menlo Park FD is being sent into Palo Alto all the time because the PA firefighters are on another call. Often PA has firefighters in another FireHall that are actualy closer but the PA City Hall people would rather send Menlo Park instead, forget the fact that PAFD still has closer units. Maybe the City Manager is trying to manipulate the number of calls by sending Menlo Park to keep increases in calls from being handled by a PAFD unit? Justify cuts by reducing statistics? I would be very upset to say the least if my condo was burning or a family member was sick and I found out the closest FireHall crew was not being sent but another agency all together from farther away was used. Firefighters will tell you that this happens everyday, year after year. Menlo Park and Mountain View employees are being sent to emergencies in Palo Alto even though PA has crews in FireHalls that are closer and could respond faster. It's simply a crime and the public has no idea it's happening. Palo Alto is obviously trying to
fix the books by keeping PAFD response numbers from increasing any faster than they are.
The City Manger or Council will also not tell you the the Fire Dept recovers much of its operating budget back by fees, paramedic ambulance billing of insurance companies for transports, and the fact that Stanford University pays about 1/3 of the PAFD budget because the PAFD protects Stanford University, it's campus housing and faculty residents and staff, SLAC, etc. The City Manager does not tell anyone that because that won't sell papers, or support his proposed cuts. How many other City Depts recover such a large percent of their operating budget? The facts are there, the PAFD reduced it's size through the years, less firefighters on duty in PA than in the 1970's, less Chiefs and less managers. Many other City Departments are much bigger than they were in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's. How did they justify their growth? but now they want everyone to take equal or greater cuts. The City Manger will also not tell you that having the FireHalls staffed by crews on 24 hour shifts saves the City money. If the firefighters worked 8,10 or 12 hour shifts the City would need to hire additional firefighters and paramedics.
Overtime is also being made out to be the firefighters doing, it's not if you ask the powers at be. The City Manager and the City Council have been staffing units for almost 20 years, 365 days a year with overtime. Instead of providing proper staffing they order firefighters to work overtime to staff programs and units that the City Manager and City Council put into service. But those same people will blame the firefighters in the firehalls. The firefighters did not decide to staff units using overtime, the City of Palo Alto did. Again, is that to give the papers salary data that is higher? so the City can say "look at how much some of those firefighters are making"? It seems like bad managing to constantly staff everyday units with overtime paid firefighters.
Don't blame the people in the firehalls, they did not direct units to be staffed with overtime everyday.
Is it just me or does it seem that many people are writing that they don't have a benefit or they lost something so they think everyone else should not have it either. Workers are taking a beating in many areas of the economy but is that really the blame of public workers? firefighters? when the economy was doing great years ago how many people were voicing their opnion about out of control Silicon Valley perks and salaries? How many Xmas's, 4th of Julys, Thanksgivings do they work every year? their kids weekend games? etc.
I would like to see the City Manager and City Council explain why they use Menlo Park and Mountain View firefighters to run emergencies in Palo Alto instead of using Palo Alto FD firefighters and paramedics? makes no sense, a 10 year old would most likely see that. Do the people who live and work in the downtown area know that the FireHall on Alma is often empty? the paramedics and firefighters may be on an ambulance in Mountain View or San Jose at the hospital.
But again, the City Manager wants to make deep cuts, regardless of the facts about revenue collections or public safety impacts.
How much bigger is the City Mangers office staff than it was 5,10,15,25,35 years ago? The City Manager won't even talk about those facts, ask the people in the FireHalls. They will tell you that almost everyday the Menlo Park FD or Mountain View FD is handling emergencies inside Palo Alto. That is because the PAFD is handling so many 911 calls that they don't have anyone to send or because the City Manager and City Council are not making sure the 911 dispatchers are sending closer PAFD units. Is that so they can say the PAFD number of emergencies are not increasing that fast?
Again, why can't the Palo Alto FireHalls be sent to emergencies that they are closer to? again ask the people in the FireHalls. They will tell you that the Fire Chief, and Council have been told about this situation but are not doing anything to ensure that the closest crew from a Palo Alto FireHall is being sent to the emergency.
Give the real facts about number of emergencies to 911 in Palo Alto, number of units, historical growth and cuts in Palo Alto City departments, how much has the FD already been reduced? what will happen to response times for paramedics and firefighters? who is responsible for staffing units with overtime everyday? and why are the firefighters being blamed for overtime when it is clearly not their decision? Then let the voters decide, if they want to shutdown the FireHall by their home or office then give them the facts first and then see what happens. Something stinks, stinks bad. The City of Palo Alto directing that another Cities firefighters be sent into Palo Alto instead of a closer Palo Alto FireHall seems odd to say the least? I'm just glad I don't live or work in downtown Palo Alto.
Having that area go without any firefighters or paramedics for so many times seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Posted by chicken little
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2010 at 11:34 am

"They will tell you that almost everyday the Menlo Park FD or Mountain View FD is handling emergencies inside Palo Alto."

I don't see anything wrong with this picture. I do see something wrong claiming that we have to source everything ourselves. If we can leverage nearby services then we should.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Hey Jake

It's called "Mutual Aid". Fire departments and police departments do it all the time. If there is a call in the north or south end of town, the neighboring jurisdication is often sent to support the requesting city. Many times they aren't even used but there incase they are needed and then sent back to their City. Cities do this back and forth all the time and it avoids having even more folks sitting around doing nothing the vast majority of time for the few times they are needed. We should be increases these shared resources not arguing they are a bad thing. It's standard protocal "Mutual Aid." But you know that, you are just trying to distort the facts and the picture of whats occurring.

As for Palo Alto Staffing Numbers. Just go look at the City's yearly financial reports. We have more firefighters per thousand residents than every City in the County except one. We have almost three times as many as San Jose. The numbers are facts and speak for themselves.

Keep the distrortions coming. The citizens will crush you at the ballot box if you try so City management can trim services everywhere. We simply can't aford it.

Posted by PA Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

To Reality Check,

Menlo Park, Mt View and even Santa Clara County come into our city ALL the time due to our units are on other calls in the city.

But here is the big one...if you think we have to many Fire Stations and I see you live downtown then DEMAND that we close Station one on Alma St. I'm with you pal...close that station. March down to city hall demand that they close the station closest to your home. Menlo Park can response to your house fire or someone in your family that needs medical attention (heart attack, choking, diff breathing)ASAP.
Do it now, I'm with you!

Posted by PA Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2010 at 5:43 pm

To Reality Check,

That is if Menlo Park can response into Palo Alto. See, a lot of times when we ask them to, they can't because there on a call in their city. We have the documentation to back this up.
But hey that's ok...right? Close that station buddy and sell off the land. I'm with you.

Posted by James Hoosac
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2010 at 6:18 pm

For the long term, I think all cities should abandon firefighter departments, and use the money saved to buy city-wide umbrella insurance from insurance companies.

Private insurance companies should be required to run firefighting subsidiaries.

Posted by Orr
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm

OK, no layoffs. Fine. But how about we cut back those PENSIONS! They are enormous and out of whack with reality.

Posted by KB
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Do we have too many firefighters in Palo Alto?

I have absolutely no idea. And I guarantee that 99% of the people posting on this discussion have no idea either. So why should we be making staffing decisions?

That's why we a representative democracy, people. So that our duly elected representatives can get the expert advice and make the right decision, so we individually don't have to. If we think they're doing a bad job, we vote them out of office. But on subjects like this, we're pretty much guaranteed to make a less informed decision than they will.

That's why this initiative is a terrible idea.

Posted by chicken little
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:40 pm

PA Firefighter, how do we go about closing down the downtown station? Seems the Menlo Park one is handling the calls just fine.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Reality Check-
You need to include the population of Stanford when you calculate the number of citizens to firefighter ratio

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 22, 2010 at 7:36 am

Oh here we go sending out rubish again.

Did anyone hear me ask for a fire station to be closed. I didn't. Beside if you were going to close one it should be the station with the fewest calls not the busiest one. A better idea over closing a station would be to re-organize the people and equipment we have to better suit the stations we have and the call distribution in the City. There are numerous stations in town with multiple pieces of equipment housed at them. Think outsidde the box guys and move stuff around. Your still missing the point and throwing out red herrings. You know no one will close a station, thats why you say it. Get real and be constructive.

As for the population totals, no one is counting Station 6 or 7, get over the Stanford and SlAC argument. Were simply talking about the 5 other stations in town which is still more than any ohter city our size. Nice try though.

Bring on the ballot measure. It's crush time.

Posted by Dan
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Some have suggested not counting Station 6 because it's on the Stanford campus. That's not correct - Station 6 houses the PAFD's only truck company and the battalion chief, in addition to an engine. It is very much a core part of the PAFD fire suppression force (unlike Station 7 at SLAC). So PAFD in fact has 6 stations with 28 FFs on duty each day.

Redwood City, with about 75,000 residents, has 19 FFs on duty.

The point here is that PAFD is, by any standard, NOT understaffed...

Posted by jake
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Mr Reality Check, I understand the Mutual Aid concept and practice. Most properly managed Cities use Mutual Aid under a few circumstances.
A; They don't have a unit available because of another incident so a Mutual Aid unit from another jurisdiction is requested.

B; Another jurisdiction actually has a unit closer to the emergency so that unit is requested and responds instead of the unit from the jurisdiction the emergency is actualy taking place in.

In Palo Alto's case the PAFD often has a FireHall closer to the fire or medical emergency or a unit closer to the emergency but another agency, IE the Menlo Park or Mtn View FD or SCCFD is sent instead? The City of Palo Alto is delaying emergency response from Paramedics and firefighters to actual emergencies. Why? most people with an ounce of common sense would see the value and need to send the Unit that will reach the emergency quicker. Why is Palo Alto perfectly OK with letting people wait longer for medical emergency response and fire response?
Touting using Mutual Aid units instead of Palo Alto units that are actually closer and faster to respond is delaying response for no valid operational reason.
Your comment about the SJFD, so what? The SJFD has four Firefighters on a unit. They have longer response times also, which means longer delays for fire and medical emergency response.
I don't see the private sector pushing for slower customer service and response for products and services, so why would anyone push for slower and longer delayed response for 911 emergencies? Longer response times equal possible lives lost and property loss, it's really that simple. 1 or 2 mins can equal brain damage or loss of life.
Even Domino's Pizza will deliver you a pizza from the closest pie oven. You don't see them driving past other Domino's that are closer, that is lesser service and longer delivery.
Does anyone ever wonder why Palo Alto has lower fire loss and lower deaths than surrounding Cities? big fires and loss of life make the news. Putting enough people on a fire or getting paramedics to the scene in time to save a life or building does not get much play on the news or ink in the paper. Do houses in Menlo Park or Mountain View burn differently than houses in Palo Alto? are heart attacks in Los Altos more severe than in Palo Alto.
Faster response times and more resources almost always, without exception will equal a better outcome to any emergency situation.
There have been plenty of research and studies done through the years that clearly prove that.
In the SJFD case, having four people on a fire engine enables that unit to perform better, faster and do more than most FD's staffed with only three people. That is one reason probably as to why they have their FireHalls cover larger areas. Talk to somebody who lives in SJ and has had a fire or medical emergency that was not near the closest FireHall. It takes some time to say the least.
Name me one other Fire Dept anywhere, that would and could justify for any valid reason using a surrounding cities emergency responders on Mutual Aid to respond to an emergency when the requesting agency has a closer FireHall and responders that are not being used? whats the value? why make people suffer longer instead of sending the closer unit, that is actualy in the City the emergency is taking place in? IT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL.
Mutaul Aid was never designed or put into policy to take the place of emergency units that are closer and can respond quicker to an emergency.
The local papers never look into those types of issues, they never question why the MPFD or the MVFD is being requested into Palo Alto to handle emergencies when the PAFD actualy has a FireHall or unit that is closer to the incident and could respond quicker, possibly saving life or limb. Talk about a waste of tax dollars, property and life. You live in a City with decent emergency response coverage, paramedics, etc. You pay your property taxes and sales taxes thinking your City Manager and City Council would ensure that emergency units that you actually help fund by contributing to the Palo Alto budget. Only to later find out the PAFD unit which was closer and faster was not used, instead Mutual Aid was requested and your emergency response was delayed? And not because the PAFD unit was on another incident many times.

Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Chicken Little writes, "seems Menlo Park is handling the cals just fine"
According to whom? how does the writer come to that conclusion?

Most people in this area seem to know very little other that what the read in Diana Diamonds articles. She makes general statements that are not factual or leaves out important details. Again, dirty laundry and negative spin equal readers and advertising space.
Most of the local papers (not a great example or news source) would rather perpetuate the false facts and semi truths than tell the whole story. They can't even spend the time or energy to research the facts. Like what emergency services REALLY cost the tax payers in Palo Alto, IE after Stanford pays their portion and AFTER RECOVERING costs through ambulance billing and fees such as haz mat.
If so, than people might actualy see that they are getting a better deal and paying less money for an improved service in may cases than surrounding Cities. How many Cities around here actualy have paramedic transport ambulances. The city I used to live in used County contracted ambulances. Response times were very very long in some cases. Private sector ambulances are doing it to make a profit, pure and simple. Palo Alto FD provides faster ambulance response and they charge less for it. Ever get an ambulance bill? it's not cheap to say the least. Private sector ambulances want to make a profit, they generaly try to run bone thin enough to keep under the County mandated response time avergae window to avoid being fines for extremely slow and delayed responses to emergencies. They are not focused on providing the fastest, cheapest and best service.
The question I have is why so many people here are arguing for slower and reduced emergency service from the City of Palo Alto, BEFORE the true facts and been presented and studied? When did citing examples of understaffed and lesser service providing emergency services become a model to try and copy or use as a positive example? If one discount store sold a jacket for $300.00 dollars and another specialty store sold another jacket that had more features of equal or better quality for $400.00 dollars BUT the $400.00 jacket also had an instant rebate for $100.00 off that $400.00 price plus $75.00 was being taken off the price in addition because of discounts. How much was the $400.00 jacket really? which was really the cheaper/better jacket price and value wise?
The PAFD's actual cost to the tax payer is cheaper than most other Cities and a smaller portion of the budget listed after cost recovery and after Stanford pays their portion for services provided to them through a contract with the City of Palo Alto.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

NO OTHER FIRE DEPARTMENT in California has close to 50% of its budget offset by outside revenue. No other. Period.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 22, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Why is it that the Palo Alto fire engines go to other cities to shop for groceries. Why do we have to pay for them to shop and not have them bring food to work like the rest. I have seen both engine 4 and 5 at Mt View Safeway at the same time. I have seen engine 1 and 6 at the Menlo Park Safeway. I guess the point is that we need the staffing numbers so the fire fighters do not have to bring food to work. In many places the departments are part paid and part volunteer. If you trained 30 to 40 people for fires you would have the fires covered and in about the same time as the second engine. At this time the standards is not to risk the fire fighters until a forth has showen up and you can die in the fire while waiting. You have a far better chance of having that forth person quickly with volunteer backup then the engine shopping for food in some other city. I have been a paramedic and worked 36 shifts. I could not trade days off like they do and end up with 2 to 4 weeks off not using vacation like my friend does. I would support the ballot measure as long as it goes both ways. All increases staffing and pay must also go first to the voters just to keep it fair.

Posted by Business Cycle
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2010 at 10:32 pm

KB of Barron Park-
I read every post on here tonight (not sure why, but I did) and without a doubt yours is the Best. You are different. I'm glad I stuck it out to the end to read it.

Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Again, the personel are needed in the event of a natural disaster. It takes a lot of firefighters to dig people out of collapsed buildings. There is a lot more to the fire service than just fires.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

I think these posts are getting WAY off track. The point to this charter amendment has nothing to do with whether or not our Fire Department is excellent, adequate, or horrid. It is irrelevant to discuss pay and benefits in the conversation that is supposed to be about this charter amendment. The fire fighters are not asking for a charter amendment to increase their pay. This isn't even about whether or not current staffing levels are where they should be. So, why don't we get back on track here? Tossing insults around (by the way, the fire workers that are responding here should think about this more clearly before they post) does nothing but alienate everyone and give an ugly bitter tone to the entire thing. No one is going to vote for it if this keeps up. We should be able to discuss this as the well-educated adults that we are.

The question here is whether or not we should vote to have to vote before positions are eliminated at the fire department. Before I can answer that I need to know exactly how much it costs to run an election in Palo Alto. I don't know that.

My other point would be that according to the fire people that have responded in this thread, the size of the department hasn't changed in - well they make it sound like forever - so what is the point? The city is clearly not running around willy nilly cutting heads at the FD - so why put the city through the expense of this election?

Lastly, should the charter amendment pass, and we are suddenly in a position of having to vote every time a position is cut at the FD, will we also have to vote every time someone is hired at the FD? Seems we should have this one both ways. I might consider voting for the amendment if this were the case.

If you want us to decide before your ranks are lowered, we should also get to decide whether to fill a position that has been vacated through retirement, or a person quitting, or any reason. If it is to be our choice, let it truly be our choice.

Is that part of the proposed amendment?

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 23, 2010 at 11:27 am

Dear Retired Staffer,

So now you want to staff the City for the big one and digging people out of the ruble. Please provide us with the last date and time, we had a major bulding collapse in Palo Alto from a natural disaster where fire fighters dug people out from under the tons of ruble. Were Waiting........................................

Were still waiting .................and will be all the way to the ballot box.

To staff a City for that type of disaster in terms of Fire, Police, Public Works etc. would bankrupt the planet.

You have to have a reasonable cost benefit scenario folks. We can no longer afford to keep any form of government the size it is today especially when employee groups like the fire fighters refused to do even the smallest of things like defer their raise last year.

Posted by I think this is about
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

The union trying to perserve its revenue sources.

Posted by Former E
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 23, 2010 at 12:13 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2010 at 2:55 pm

All I can say is "wow". There are some bitter people out there.

I support the PAFD in every way, but I will not support the proposition. And isn't that the original point of the article and discussion?

The CPA needs to have as much flexibility in managing city resources as possible. We cannot tie their hands behind their backs.

What bothers me most - is how many "experts" there are on this thread and the venom they are spewing. To para-quote Jim Kramer from CNBC: "You know nothing!" Except for 2 or 3 posters, none of you have ever been involved in working in emergency services, let alone managing emergency services. You have no idea what mandates are in place in terms of minimum fire and emergency protection. You have no idea what PAFD station staff have to do on a daily flash, they don't sit around on their fannies and watch TV. Inspections, equipment maintenance, etc. come to mind.

And the joker on the food runs to Safeway. Are you kidding me? Those guys live at the station for several days in a row. They have to cook their own meals. Go to any fire station in the USA - it's standard practice that the city/county provides for the cost of the meals, but the staff does the cooking.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Remember Emily Latella's rantings on Saturday Night Live? It seems that she spawned dozens of shortsighted and pretty ignorant clones in Palo Alto.

Be rational: Hard economic choices are necessary in hard times. You have to make trade-offs -- consider postponing city beautification projects in order to preserve essential services. Police and fire are essential.

Turning on the firefighters? You try doing that job yourself.

Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

Contract with Santa Clara County Fire Department. We are very happy with or level of service and services offered through SCCFD.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:31 am

Hey neighbor,

Were not turing on the fire fighters. You have missied the point.

They turned on us. They completely thumbed their nose at us last year and now they want you to bail them out further.

All were askinf for is that they share the pain just like all the other City employees and like many of the Citizens.

Posted by nifty
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2010 at 12:08 am

It's tough to read all of these comments. The final final is agree to disagree. The perspectives shown within the commentary are widening my eyes to the sympathy and the outrage. Its tough, I know. I used to own my own business.

Its a crapshoot when it comes to shiftwork. Some days are better than others. 24 hours x 10 days a week or.... 16 hours x 10 days a week & 8 hours x 10 days a week. Its the same thing.

The point is that the statistical data is misleading on all ends. Transparency is lacking and access to biased information is apparently the norm. How do you make an informed decision when one person swears by something only to be refuted by the other.

I am a firefighter, I used to be a small business owner. I don't see my wife every night, I don't sleep every night. However, I get to work around great people. I get to make a person breath again, their heart beat. I get to hear the shreak of a family member who realized they have lost a loved one & witness the gore and the horror of a suicide. I don't make 180K a year, far from it. The way the economy is going will PERS be solvent when I retire in nearly 30 years. I may be paying into a broken system like Social Security. I have a 4 year degree, I am a paramedic. I am $30,000 in debt from taking a year off to become a paramedic. I take home around $5,000 a month. I pay 9% of my salary to my PERS. I attempt to have a 401k that I put in to. The average age of a firefighter hires is 28, I will not retire at 50 more likely 60. The actuaries of life expectancy past that date will most likely be longer than current data. This difference is not known yet. I hope I get 10-15 good years before I am gone. I feel that I pay for my retirement nominally, physically, emotionally. I am willing to sacrifice.

There is always a way to find a balance, I just hope that in finding this balance we do not tip over.

Just a perspective.

Posted by PA resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

The issue here is excessive compensation for a job that could easily be filled with qualified candidates at 40% - 50% of what the city is paying. As in many areas the unions have become extremely greedy and powerful. Citizens control the right to fix the problem by electing leaders who will address the issue of excessive compensation. I don't blame the firefighters. Their union has been able to set up a ridiculously cushy pay situation and fire staff is reaping an incredible bonanza.

Most of the folks currently on the fire staff in PA would probably be making $60K -$70K a year (unless they chose to be policemen). They would be working as truck drivers, or carpenters, or something similar. I think it is great that they have a job they enjoy but compensate them what they are worth.

As far as trips to Safeway, it wouldn't bother folks so much if one individual took a small vehicle to the store to make the purchases. Not sure why they can't shop on their own time like the rest of us and bring in food to the station. It is pretty clear they don't have enough to do, so the highlight of the day seems to be when several of them pile in to the big rig and park in the red at Safeway. What a waste of time, equipment, and energy. I am amazed with all of the effort the union has put in to making the fire staff seem so special that they don't realize how ridiculous this looks to taxpayers.

My brother is a fire captain in N. California. He loves his job and works with some good folks. If I had it to do over again and knew what a boondoggle it would be I would have gone the fire careeer instead of getting my advanced degree and working high tech. My dad always told us he thought it was a great job. But he also told us we would ahve to have another job on our days off to make a decent salary.

What we need is to bring the staffing, salaries and workload of the of the PA fire staff back in to line with the real world.

Posted by South Midtown Dad
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Great, so now you are suggesting that these firefighters shop elsewhere before coming to work? At least they are purchasing goods inside of our city limits. I don't have a problem with that, in fact I support it. I suppose you're one of the people who didn't want Home Depot, Best Buy, or any of the big box stores in "your backyard"?

I have said for years living here that we don't generate enough tax revenue REGARDLESS of how the city pays its employees. It wouldn't even matter if they took a 50% pay cut, what good is that when we still don't attract revenue generating businesses inside our city lines? You need to get your head out of the dirt and see the big picture. The overall budget is not just about paying city employees salaries and benefits (which has been well discussed here already) it's also about generating revenue.

I read an article last year that said our fire department actually generates a revenue by the operation of ambulances. If I recall correctly, that amount was well over a million dollars a year generated back to the general fund. I have an old friend who works for a fire department in the East Bay. He told me their department has a 22 million dollar a year budget, but they don't have any ambulances and they don't generate ANY revenue. This kind of news makes me wonder why my great grandfather used to tell me "there's two sides to every story".

I personally would like to see some kind of audit or study to see how our fire department compares to neighboring cities AND THEN you all can spew out your anger and frustration here if the results show our fire department is overstaffed and "draining the city's funds". BUT, see the big picture. You are all ranting and raving about just ONE department. The daily news article I read stated that their budget is only 18% OF THE OVERALL BUDGET, and Stanford University pays for a third of that portion. If you think the City's financial woes are a result of just the fire department, you need to get educated and quit hiding behind your computer.

I'm not ready to support cutting ANY police or fire services in our city until the other 82% of the budget is examined and corrected first!!!

Posted by S. Hill
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2010 at 7:13 am

To all residents of Palo Alto,
Their are always two sides to every story. Their is the real truth with honest facts and there are misleading facts that sometimes come from the City, Newspapers,or even the Union. Emotions can run high and the real facts become hidden in a vail of smoke. If you as residents truly care about your public employee's and are willing to know the true facts then ask for some meetings with the Fire Chief, the Union President ( who is also a Sunnyvale City Council Person) the City Manager and schedule a few meetings to ask questions and get accurate responses. Please do not rely on just one side of the spectrum. When the financial times are prosperous no one really looks at what city employee's earn. Now that we are all feeling the rough times we go after the group of workers who are in the background providing the 24 hour services to the community. Again if you are really interested in knowing the facts then demand meetings with both sides to have a clearer picture of what is factual. As a voter, a taxpayer, and a retired firefighter, and someone who would want to know both sides I would want all the facts and answers. It's always easy to attack a group when you can just type it on the computer, so can you also take the time and ask your Fire Chief to be honest and allow him to tell the real truth without fear of reprisal from the City Manager and then ask the Union President for the real facts about the history of the financial operations of the Fire Department. There have been many financial blunders that the City has made in not taking the necessary precautions to protect itself from the down times in our markets and the true accurate " money" picture is not always told. So again thank you for being part of the solution. Ask the people above for meetings and then come to your own conclussion.

Posted by Lori
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2010 at 10:18 am

I am certain that the firefighters of Palo Alto aren't living in these lavish homes earning what they earn. Until you really know what each of them make then you should keep your uninformed opinion to yourself. They are protecting our homes and businesses that we all have. You should really ask how many firefighters can afford to live in the City they protect and risk their lives for? I wonder how many of you would like your salarys posted in public to be scrutinized and asked to be validated at what you do by people who have not walked in your shoes. Let's focus on the REAL issue. Which is keeping our City protected and prepared and support our local Firefighters!!

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