Response times to San Jose fires raises questions

Firefighters are on the scene of two separate fires that have damaged or destroyed four homes in San Jose.

August 26, 2010 8:32:27 PM PDT
Two early morning fires in San Jose come as the department copes with massive cuts. The first call came in at 5:04 a.m.-- firefighters responded in just five minutes. The second fire came less than 20 minutes later buta response time twice as long.

Shortly after 5 a.m. Shirley Furtado heard fire engines responding to a nearby house fire. Less than 20 minutes later she heard an explosion and saw smoke at her own home.

"Big boom; [I] was lucky I wasn't inside when it happened," she said.

Flames quickly engulfed the house because of a break in a natural gas line. Two of Furtado's three dogs died in fire and the response time is under scrutiny. The president of the firefighters union blames engine and staffing cutbacks that took affect August 1.

"It's already starting to happen, it's going to get worse and worse and worse," Randy Sekany said.

The city and fire management says the delayed response was the direct result of two big fires in the same area around the same time and not because of those recent cutbacks.

"The 10 minute response time could be attributed to the stations being at another emergency that would have normally responded to that incident," San Jose Fire Department Capt. Chuck Rangel said.

The controversy comes as firefighters gathered in San Jose for the first of two days of voting. The city says if the rank and file members are willing to give up nearly 9 percent of their pay and benefits, laid off firefighters will be reinstated.

"We'd like them back to work and there is no question that if they agree to these concessions, the city will hire those 49 firefighters back," San Jose chief negotiator Alex Gurza said.

Many firefighters feel the economy and politics have created a mess and a no win outcome for themselves and public safety.

"This is disgusting; I'm disappointed, I love every citizen here in San Jose, this is my passion," fire engineer and paramedic Scott Fey said.

Even as firefighters debate tough choices, Thursday they were once again heroes in the community. Crews rescued a dog named Doy and kept the flames that gutted Furtado's home from spreading.

"Our house was saved, the house next door was saved, everything was saved expect that one house so I think they did a good job," neighbor Suzanne Kent said.

The vote that will be taken Friday is simply an advisory vote to see how the majority of firefighters feel and if they are willing to give up what the city is asking.

Investigators say there is nothing suspicious about the cause of the fires.


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