Ambulance Service Makes AFD Special
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Dennis Evanosky

Members of the Alameda Fire Department (AFD) were among the firefighters who rode their bicycles from Sausalito to Half Moon Bay last Sunday. They were riding to raise money to help fight cancer. AFD firefighters Scott West, Rich Navarro and Steve Mrak all made the ride. The day held special significance for AFD as the ride remembered AFD firefighter Scott Carnevale who succumbed to cancer on Jan. 3, 2011.


News Analysis:

The department actually has 97 sworn firefighters and seven additional office personnel who are not sworn.’ — Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi

Alameda Fire Department (AFD) Chief Mike D'Orazi sat down with the Alameda Sun on Tuesday to respond to the story in last week's paper ("AFD Staffing as Compared to Similar Cities," Aug. 16).

"When you compare Alameda Fire Department (AFD) to the fire departments in Redwood City and Mountain View, there is one service that Redwood City and Mountain View don't offer," D'Orazi said. "We run ambulance services."

Unlike the departments in the other two cities, AFD has three ambulance transport units.

D'Orazi points to one similarity. Each of the three cities has 18 firefighters dedicated to fire engines and fire trucks. But neither Redwood City nor Mountain View has six firefighters dedicated to the ambulance service.

"They only have staffing on their fire engines and fire trucks," D'Orazi said. "But that staffing is very similar to AFD."

D'Orazi said that comparisons should not include Redwood City or Mountain View, but should include Palo Alto and South San Francisco. The latter two cities are more similar to Alameda in terms of size and service because both have firefighters running ambulance transport services. The fire departments in Berkeley and San Ramon Valley could also paint a more accurate comparison of staffing and needs in comparison to AFD, he said.

D'Orazi also casts a critical eye on the recommendations in the 2008 report prepared for the city by the consulting firm ICMA. The report recommended employing a chief, a deputy chief and five captains. "This is not consistent with the way the AFD is organized," D'Orazi said. "If you take a look at the staffing models of other Bay Area fire departments like Mountain View and Redwood City, nobody has that type of model."

"If you look at our organization, we have one chief, no deputy chiefs and four division chiefs," D'Orazi said.

Chief Daren Olsen is the administrative chief; one battalion chief works each of the department's three shifts.

Redwood City's fire department has a fire chief, a deputy fire chief, four or five battalion chiefs and a fire marshal, the equivalent of a deputy chief.

"The upper management of our department is significantly more constricted," he said.

D'Orazi pointed to an inaccuracy in last week's story. AFD does not have 118 firefighters, as reported. "The department actually has 97 sworn firefighters and seven additional office personnel who are not sworn," he said.

He pointed to some key questions that need consideration when analyzing a fire department. How many people do you have on each engine? How many people are staffed on each truck? How many firefighters do you have on ambulance? "We are certainly not over-inflated as far as staffing levels are concerned," he said. "We run lean."

He pointed out that three firefighters staff each engine and truck company. "This is actually below the nationally recognized standard of four," he said. "We do this because we have ambulances staffed with firefighters. The cities of Berkeley, Palo Alto, and South San Francisco all run operations in much the same way."

He pointed out that AFD's engines have a captain, an apparatus operator who drives and operates the pumps and a firefighter; one of those three is also a paramedic. Redwood City does not have a paid driver position. Instead, they have firefighters who drive and ride as firefighters."

D'Orazi said that looking at the staffing levels of neighboring fire departments like Berkeley, Napa, Fremont, Hayward, all places of similar geography, could give a better understanding of the staffing issue. The ICMA, ISO, City Gate, and TriData reports are all available on the city's website.

When the ICMA report came out, it called for potentially closing fire station No. 3 and reducing staff. But the other three reports came to an entirely different conclusion.

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