Scathing report issued on Santa Clara Co. fire departments

June 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
In Santa Clara County, fire departments are facing some harsh criticism from a watch dog group. The group claims firefighters could operate more efficiently and be more cost effective.

The Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury's report is in and it is critical. It calls the county's fire departments "resistant to change, wasteful, and outdated." Especially, since firefighters spend 70 percent of their time not fighting fires, but on medical calls.

"The question comes to mind is do we need a big fire truck to go out on something that a paramedic can handle and can be done through an ambulance?" said Helene Popenharger from the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury.

Right now, the county requires a four-person fire team and engine to respond to every emergency - regardless of what it is. The Grand Jury thinks medical emergencies should shift primarily to ambulances and paramedics instead.

"You just have to believe that there's some cost savings there when you're rolling less expensive equipment and lower paid employees," said Popenharger.

When asked if he thought there was some waste right now, San Jose's Fire Chief William McDonald said, "Yeah, I think that there probably is some waste."

San Jose's fire chief says he's open to change and already planned to make adjustments July 1st. That's when a new private ambulance service will begin rolling.

"We are looking at the lower severity calls we'll be sending two-person companies and they'll be smaller," said McDonald.

But the firefighters union has other issues with the Grand Jury's report, which called some firefighters self "serving, greedy, and not service minded," since many live outside the county they work in.

"That's a completely false statement," said union president Robert Sapien.

All of the fire departments and county leaders have 90 days to respond to this report. They can either follow the Grand Jury's recommendations or not.


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