Protection needed at Santa Clara Co. Jail

April 3, 2008 10:32:50 PM PDT
There's a flurry of phone calls going on at San Jose City Hall. The hot topic is whether firefighters are safe responding to calls at the county jail and whether there are too many of those calls.

911 medical calls often thrust San Jose firefighters into the heart of the Santa Clara County Jail. Two buildings hold 1,400 criminals in a place with spotty cell phone and radio communication.

"It is an extraordinary circumstance and although firefighters take risks every day, they even find it more risky than normal," said Firefighters Union president Randy Sekany.

In January, an unusual incident report was filed stating firefighters were faced with a number of unsecured inmates before finally reaching their patient.

That's against a 2004 policy and one the fire chief says is working.

"The policy is spelled out where the captains have the discretion to stop everything, if they don't feel safe and don't have an escort," said San Jose Interim Fire Chief Darryl Von Raesfeld.

The main jail is one of the most frequent addresses for 911 calls averaging in the neighborhood of one a day.

The chief of the corrections department says 911 is only used for medical emergencies and he's not aware of any safety complaints.

Councilmember Pierlugi Oliverio wants the entire situation reviewed and scrutinized.

"If I am out doing unnecessary 911 calls at the jail and I have someone in the neighborhood that has a heart attack or fire, those are personnel that are taken off something else that is really needed," said Pierluigi Oliverio from the San Jose City Council.

Oliverio issued a memo with ten questions he wants answered. The fire chief is ready to respond.

"We're doing our background investigation to get the data, the types of calls, number of calls and seeing if there's any other usual occurrences reports," said Cheif Von Raesfeld.

The union is unnerved by reports that some firefighters have faced veiled threats of retaliation if they spoke up.

"To have that occur would fly in the face of everyone's philosophy about safety first but if it exists we will take that on with everything we have," said Sekany.

Councilmember Oliverio takes the issue before the Safety Committee on April 17th.


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