New SJ fire chief to use technology to fill in gaps

August 3, 2010 7:57:39 PM PDT
In San Jose, the new fire chief has just been on the job for two days and he is already making it known that he wants to see those 49 laid-off firefighters return, but he says he is committed to doing more with less. Also, the new chief plans to use technology, to plug in the gaps.

William McDonald says tight budgets are a reality. While he wasn't on the job yet, and didn't have a hand in the layoff of 49 firefighters, he would like to see them back.

"We should have been able to find a way, and we just weren't able to do that. So our commitment to them is to keep them informed of our progress, to try to find ways to resolve the issue as quickly as we possibly can, and to find ways to get those folks back here," said McDonald.

In the meantime, McDonald is wrestling with how to meet public expectations.

"We have fewer resources. We're very, very lean. But I think the community can expect and deserves excellent service, and that's what we'll provide," said McDonald.

They plan to do that by proceeding with dynamic deployment, where computers, historic, and real-time data will help decide where to deploy firefighters on a daily basis. And that might mean some stations, such as Engine 30, might be unstaffed from time to time.

Lacey Dias lives just down the street from that fire station.

"That definitely worries me a little bit that the safety of our community is not actually a top priority if they're making cuts, and that's worrying me. If something happens locally, there might not be someone there. They have to deploy them somewhere else," said Dias.

Another resident is unsure of the new staffing system.

"It sounds interesting, but I think computers, there's a lot of room for human mistakes that can happen with those computers, and like any system, if you just implement it, there has to be some supervision. I think it's too premature for that," said Delmas Park resident Miguel Garcia.

Dynamic deployment as it is known is not new to the fire service. It has been adopted in other cities facing budget cuts and high employee costs.

McDonald says dynamic deployment is a work in progress and that over time, he expects it to be fine-tuned.

The San Jose City Council had a busy day as it tackles tough budget times.

In a closed-session meeting Tuesday morning, one of the major topics expected to be a discussed was the firefighters union's newest proposal that makes concessions to help reinstate 49 firefighters laid off this past weekend. The city's chief negotiator, Alex Gurza, will resume talks with the union Wednesday afternoon. The city has been insisting it will require $10 million in savings to bring back the 49 firefighters, but the five-page union proposal appears to save only $4 million.


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