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New Plan to Make FFs More Mobile In Light of Staff Cuts

New Plan to Make FFs More Mobile In Light of Staff Cuts

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

July 10, 2010

SAN JOSE – The San Jose Fire Department is set to close the Communications Hill Fire Station on Aug. 1 and make Station 30 on Auzerais Avenue a “posting station,” fire leaders said. The moves are part of a new program to spread firefighters more efficiently throughout the city.

Because of city budget cuts and stalled union negotiations, the department is set to lose several dozen firefighters in five engine companies, and it plans to shuffle ladder and truck companies at several stations.

Separately, the fire department is set to launch a new "dynamic deployment’ software system that essentially makes firefighters more mobile between stations.

During current large emergencies, San Jose fire dispatchers use magnets on a paper map to track ladder trucks and fire engines as they respond to calls. During large fires that require firefighters from multiple stations, dispatchers use experience and instinct to backfill stations that have been left empty.

The new system will track firefighters and equipment electronically, and it can make recommendations on when to backfill the stations that firefighters left behind.

“We’re losing five engine companies. Dynamic deployment is not going to replace those companies, but it will help mitigate those effects,” said Interim San Jose Fire Chief Teresa Deloach-Reed.

Fire leaders chose to close Communications Hill because it receives far fewer calls for service than other stations. Also, the future housing developments that it was intended to serve never materialized.

Fire Station 30 on Auzerais is the only station that would be made a part-time or “posting” station, Deloach-Reed said. Firefighters would stay there for only a few hours or a night with the new system rather then spending their whole shift there.

Fire leaders chose Station 30 in part because the area is well covered by other stations and it was initially built as a temporary station while another station was built.

Councilman Sam Liccardo, in whose district Fire Station 30 is located, said he is confident of the new program and of the judgment of the fire department’s top brass.

“Firefighters save lives, stations don’t. So the focus is on the people, not on the buildings,” Liccardo said. “What we need is a response approach that ensures that firefighters can get to the scene as quickly as possible.”

Acting San Jose deputy fire director Geoff Cady, the architect of the new system, said residents near Station 30 on Auzerais and Station 33 on Communications Hill might have slower service. However, he said firefighters will still strive to meet their goal of arriving at incidents within eight minutes 80 percent of the time.

City leaders discussed closing Station 30 entirely in 2009, to the dismay of many residents, so some city officials said a posting station would be a better alternative.

The city spent $500,000 on the new dispatch software, and Cady said he is fully committed to it.

“I am willing to stake my career on the notion that we will get at least as much value as we have invested in the technology,” Cady said.

In June, Cady visited the Nashville, Tenn., fire department to see the new software in action. He planned to visit fire departments in Alameda County and San Diego this summer. The system is known as Live MUM, or the Live Move-Up Model. The overall system is called dynamic deployment-which San Jose Fire coined.

The system would force a cultural shift for the department, its leaders said, because firefighter companies would be seen as mobile assets spread across several stations.

Roughly 80 percent of the fire department’s calls are for medical help, not fires. Its eight-minute response-time goal is achieved roughly 82 percent of the time, according to the department.

The changes come at a critical time.

A new fire chief is set to start in August, and attempts to reduce San Jose firefighters’ retirement and benefits have been stalled at the bargaining table. Barring an unlikely new agreement this summer on firefighters’ benefits, the city is set to eliminate the equivalent of 53 full-time positions from the department.