SJ firefighters sound the alarm about more cutbacks

San Jose firefighters

May 10, 2011 8:14:08 PM PDT
Firefighters in San Jose are sounding the alarm. They claim that if city leaders impose rolling brownouts this summer, they might save money but they will put lives in danger.

The San Jose Fire department's aim is respond to emergencies in eight minutes or less. The national fire protection standard is four to five minutes.

"In reality, someone in cardiac arrest loses their life in four to six minutes, so we're already behind the curve comparatively with other departments," battalion chief and head of the firefighters' union Robert Sapien said.

Three separate fires broke out Monday in less than 30 minutes. Firefighters say that kind of day truly tests their thinning resources. Last year, the city cut 49 firefighters jobs. Now, there may be rolling brownouts this summer.

On brownout days, a truck or engine is taken out of service and the firefighters from that unit work out of another station.

"Adding brownouts to that equation, our system becomes thinner and more unable to adequately respond to high call volume periods," Sapien said.

But fire department officials say brownouts are better than the alternative.

"The alternate was to close a station completely and we didn't want to do that," San Jose Fire Department spokesperson Capt. Scott Kouns said.

Mayor Chuck Reed says the plan would only affect seven stations which have both a truck and an engine.

"That's expected to save about $3.5 million; it's primarily a way to avoid overtime on days when we don't have enough people to staff everything," Reed said.

But firefighters say there is a good reason why there should be two trucks at all times at stations like Station 1 on North Market Street in downtown San Jose. The firehouse covers a large commercial and residential area, so do the other stations with two trucks.

"So you remove one unit from that system and you get an impact on response time," Sapien said.

The mayor says everything is still on the table, but with a projected deficit of $105 million for the next fiscal year, options and time are running short.

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