Oakland will no longer support citizen firefighters

June 21, 2011 6:54:32 PM PDT
As part of a pilot program after the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, some residents there were trained to use and hook up fire hoses to their neighborhood fire hydrants. Some, like resident Steve Matthews, still have those hoses, but the Oakland Fire Department no longer supports their using them.

The original idea was for residents to be able to put out a spot fire quickly or keep things under control until Oakland fire crews arrived. For years, they had regular training sessions with and without Oakland firefighters present. But in 2002, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the opening of hydrants by citizens. The residents did some limited training after that, until 2008, when the hydrant training was discontinued altogether.

"They did not recognize our program here as a training program, and therefore we were told... anybody who opens a hydrant to do this, a thousand-dollar fine," said Matthews. "We've got the hoses, we've got the hydrants, we've got the water. We just don't have the permission to freely go ahead and do it."

"I would say that we certainly appreciated the citizens' interest in support of the fire department, in support of their communities, and wanting to help fight fires," said Oakland Fire Dept. Chief James Williams. "But the reality is that we don't want to put citizens in harm's way. We have trained firefighters and emergency response personnel in the city. We're going to respond quickly. We're here to support you. It's the service that we provide."

Oakland councilman Ignacio De La Fuente has been a strong supporter of citizen firefighting efforts in the past.

"There's no way you can tell me as a citizen, or citizens, that they should not prepare or do everything they can to protect themselves and protect their property," said De La Fuente.

Oakland fire officials say the opening of hydrants can be a safety hazard to non-professionals, and if citizens are using water, it could deplete resources for firefighters in the event of a big fire emergency.


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