San Jose Fire Department under scrutiny for response times

SAN JOSE, Calif.

One Santa Clara County leader says firefighters are not responding fast enough to medical calls and now the fire department is on the defensive.

When it comes to medical emergencies in San Jose, firefighters are the first responders. They show up in a fire truck and begin treating patients before the ambulance takes them to the hospital. But they're not showing up quickly enough, and now the fire department has a reason.

One city fire station is shut down and several others frequently operate with just one crew instead of the usual two because of budget problems.

The fire department is failing to meet Santa Clara County's requirement that they show up to 90 percent of medical calls in 8 minutes or fewer.

County Supervisor Dave Cortese, who is also running for mayor, announced he wants to declare San Jose's fire department in breach of contract.

He's referring to the contract under which the county pays the fire department millions of dollars for medical response services, but demands fire fighters respond to emergency calls in a timely fashion.

Over the last 14 months, the department has not been meeting that standard. It's been on time only 80 percent of the time, which meets the city's own standards but not the county's.

As a result, the county could fine the city more than $800,000 dollars, something firefighters say would worsen the budget troubles that got them into this bind in the first place.

But Cortese thinks money isn't the only problem. He thinks the fire department's being mismanaged.

"The drop from 90 percent to 80 percent, so suddenly, is unusual and it speaks to systemic problems. And we're hearing direct reports from fire personnel that in some cases they haven't met with their own management personnel for evaluations in up to two years," said Cortese.

"We're close. And we're trying to do as best we can. And hopefully if the economy starts changing and getting better, perhaps we can get services restored. And get the numbers back up and get some more engine companies in service. But right now, you know, we can only deal with what we have," said San Jose Fire Department Captain Cleo Doss.

Supervisors will meet Tuesday to consider whether this is a breach of contract. But Cortese says he'll recommend against issuing the massive fine, at least for now.

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