Firefighters Union President: City Plays Politics with Department Response Times

San Jose Fire Department emergency response times have been calculated based upon incomplete and inaccurate data. That must be remedied. In San Jose, each fire company is assigned a geographical area as their “first due” assignment. This means that if an emergency call is received and the first-due fire company is available, then that company will be dispatched to respond and the response time calculated appropriately. In thousands of instances, over the past several years, fire companies responded outside of their first-due geographical area and these calls were not included in calculating emergency response times. Responding to emergency calls outside of a fire company’s first due area is a regular occurrence in San Jose, and it increases response times—increasing the risk to the public and to firefighters.

This means that critical staffing and budget decisions were made based upon data that would remain static, even if only a single station remained open citywide. At last year’s community budget hearings, city administrators reported that the elimination of five fire companies, implementation of “dynamic-deployment,” brownouts and company staffing reductions all had no impact on response-time performance. We knew then and certainly know now that this was untrue. What’s the significance? It’s about politicizing life and death.

On Valentines Day in 2012, a press conference was held at City Hall to formally announce the implementation of the PulsePoint mobile application, in partnership with El Camino Hospital and the San Jose Fire Department. This app was designed to notify the nearest skilled lifesaver in the event someone nearby is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. (Visit PulsePoint for more information.)

In late February 2012, PulsePoint went live and many smartphone-carrying San Jose Fire Fighters downloaded the app. The typical reaction to the app was a wordless headshake. Firefighters recognized immediately that after a modest investment of time, money and a few days of interfacing with the SJFD Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system to capture necessary data, PulsePoint had produced a service that is years ahead of the alert system that we were using in the fire stations every day. In many instances, PulsePoint was alerting fire fighters to emergencies well before our dispatch system.

In the Chuck Reed era, inaccurate information, excuses and spin are king. You’ll recall that when professional fire fighters and police officers cautioned of increased emergency response times and rising crime rates, the Mayor’s spin deflected the caution and characterized it as nothing more than union scare tactics.

Emergency response times matter. That’s why it’s a key performance measurement for fire and EMS services, and why the PulsePoint app was created. Deployment of resources is always a question of balance. Unfortunately, that balance has been tipped away from protecting the public in San Jose. San Jose’s goal of an 8-minute response to emergencies, set by the City Council, is already more than two minutes slower than the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard of six minutes. And staffing levels are at the bottom of the 30 largest U.S. cities; despite the rhetoric, at a comparatively low per capita cost for services.

Your fire department responds to genuine emergencies of all types with real hazards and real victims. We arrive with skills that can be the difference between life and death, but only if we are on time. We know that a modest investment can yield the information that we need to make sound public safety policy decisions—critical information that the public should demand.

Politics in San Jose are driving up crime and driving up fire department response times. San Jose residents deserve better than what they are getting.

Robert Sapien is president of the San Jose Firefighters union, IAFF-Local 230.

21 Comments

  1. The citizens looked at the pay and pensions of firefighters in San Jose and made the judgment that they are too high. We asked our mayor and city council to do something about it and they did. It wasn’t about politics. It was about economics. Now we’re waiting to see how Measure B plays out so surely you can understand if we’re reluctant to make big hiring and firing decisions until the outcome is known. 
    Not all that worried about the manner in which response times are calculated. Just do the best you can with what you’ve got. Many industries have figured out ways of doing more with less- using new technology to increase efficiency. Sounds like this app can help SJFD fall into that category.

    • Do you realize that most people pay more for their cell phones than they do for public safety? It absolutely is about Politics when the truth is stretched or omitted. No other city or jurisdiction The size of San Jose does what our public safety does with what they have. Every comparable city has at least twice as many Firefighters, stations and three times as many Police officers. Even though San Jose is among the busiest in the Nation. There are Fire companies here in san jose that run more calls than most other cities .

      No one is denying that Pension reform was needed , but it has to be done Legally and not imposed. Workers offered a plan that would have saved at least $500 million dollars . savings would have begun immediately , instead we are locked in a court battle that will cost residents Millions of dollars only to be defeated in the courts. Not one cent has been saved . This Mayor would have you believe that it is a gravy train for public safety , he never mentions the 22% public safety pays into their pension system .

      why are’nt the residents asking why San Jose is so mismanaged? one of the most affluent places in the nation , one with the strongest economic growth is struggling to keep pace.

      you might want to “do the best you can with what you have” because under this regime the mass exodus will continue. so learn first aid , learn to fight fire , learn CPR , learn to disarm an assailant, learn to shoot , learn to be self sufficient , because if the Mayor has his way , these already decimated departments will shrink even further

    • Mr . Galt – if you live in San Jose, you should be very worried about how response times are calculated. The reason being that the amount, type and location of emergency response resources are based on this information. The adage “garbage in, garbage out” applies here as it does in the computer world, only in this instance, people may die because of inaccurate data. Living with your head buried in the sand because “it will never happen to me, it always happens to the other guy” may work for you, but it’s definitely not good enough for my family. I pay my taxes so that my government officials do their very best to provide public safety and other services. In this specific instance, it’s clear to me that Mayor Reed and City Council are falling far short of my expectations. If this is being done intentionally, then that’s a whole other level and discussion.

    • Mr. Galt,

      I often see others mention that the police and firefighters make too much in pay and pension. While I will agree that pensions need a review and change (although I do not agree with the way it is being attempted) I would like to know what you think appropriate pay should be for a police officer or firefighter?  I have done some looking around and San Jose PD and FD are no where near being overpaid when you compare them to other departments in the SF Bay Area.

      Not only have the these public safety workers taken 10% pay cuts but they are now facing more than 16% cuts to their pay with Measure B.  Non public safety workers are facing the same.  What do you think the attitude of these employees will be having had their pay cut nearly 30%?  Do you really think they will be more motivated?  On top of that Measure B will take away protections that these public safety workers have if they are permanently disable on the job.  I would only imagine that if a bad guy is running away that an officer would think twice before pursuing until back up arrives or if a house is burning and everyone is out then maybe it is not so bad if the house burns down.  This city has shown its workers what it thinks of their service and I would think it will reflect in the workers’ performance, rightfully so.

      As long as the city keeps dumping money into the airport, convention center, land deals for ball parks and all the other “deals” all while cutting workers pay and benefits I think the attitudes of the employees will continue to decline.

      Here is an idea, how about a measure on the ballot that looks at restructuring the city charter. We always here about how much the General Fund has declined and how much pensions cost. Why not look at all the money that is not included in the General Fund?  The net revenue and how that money is spread around.

    • Why do you let John Galt get under your skin. He throws up on the this blog all the time. He knows deep down inside that he is wrong, just like the clowns he supports over at the ivory tower.

      We all know that measure B is absoulatly illegal. Let him sit there and stew about it. Why do we care if cops are leaving?, they are finding better jobs. Why do we care about finding police recruits? They know not to come here, and if they do, they will leaving after the academy. The citizens will suffer.

      One day the odd ‘s will catch up with John Galt. His car might get broken in to, or maybe his house. Maybe he will need a firefighter to pull him out of his car after an accident. Maybe one day, he will need both, as he’s lying on his back and looking up at the big blue sky.

      One day you will need help, and I hope it comes on time.

      • Mr. homework,

        Mr. Galt is not getting under my skin at all. I have read many of his comments and understand he too is uninformed. Like I said before, people including Mr. Galt, will not understand or care about public safety services until they, or he, needs them personally or in a large scale event. I do not wish any ill on Mr. Galt, although I do hope that when and if a day comes and he needs public safety services that he appreciates it. My guess is that he will be crying the loudest about how come it took so long.

  2. “In the Chuck Reed era, inaccurate information, excuses and spin are king.”

    Amen you hit a home run with that, this is the true look of Chuck and his council clowns.  Chuck’s way or the highway, he does not give a damn about public safety.

    Never has, never will.

  3. Gee , Imagine that ! The City being less than truthful ! Theres a shock . Its Not rocket science ,  if you fail to include responses outside of your first due area then Obviously times are shortened .  this is an everyday occurrence . this city allows for an 8 minute response time and that is 2 minutes longer than NFPA standards . What that says is that The City of San Jose does not value or care about its residents . In Life or death situations seconds count , Minutes are an eternity and never help the person in distress. What if thats your child , wife , Mother sister , Grandfather, Would you like treatment to be withheld 2 minutes in a trauma ,cardiac arrest , or respiratory arrest if it was your loved one in distress ? This unscrupulous Mayor has gone way beyond limits to show his disdain for public safety . The Mayor & council were warned of extended response times if responding units were eliminated . ( because now units are coming from farther out) . what is the Mayors response? “that public safety is intentionally slowing down their responses” . What an absolute insult to the professionals who” protect and serve with Honor and Pride” .  Is it truely a wonder that a mass exodus has taken place here in san jose. People dedicate and risk their lives for the people of San jose , only to be Maligned by the Mayor,Council , The Mercury news and yes even residents .  Lets see where this road takes us . My guess is its only going to get worse before it gets any better . I have serious doubts that san jose will ever recover the loss of experienced public safety that have left san jose for greener pastures

  4. John Galt… Many industries have figured out ways…….  cmon we not making slippers… these guys are there to protect may family and yours…. seconds counts….  but enjoy your invite to the mayors ball…  Only in San Jose has the mayor chased away a third of the cops…  all the other cities went through the same thing.. This Mayor screwed up.. he lies to you and you choose to believe him… sorry

  5. I almost hate go there, but I have to state the obvious.  People are more worried about police services than fire services.

    A lot of police have been able find other jobs.  How many fire people have left San Jose for other municipalities?  Rather than have fire people serve paramedic roles, I would rather them being trained to serve law enforcement roles.  Like Sunnyvale.

    • Mr. Randall,

      It is ok to go “there”. You are probably correct in that most people care more about the crime rate than fire suppression or EMS services. People will only care about fire services when the next big earthquake hits and people are in need. Only then will they begin to complain in numbers about how long it took to get help.

      Many more police officers have left because the opportunity is there.  Police officers have many more lateral opportunities than fire service personnel.  If other departments in the area begin to hire lateral firefighters I can guarantee firefighters will leave. Sure the fire department has filled a couple of academies with new recruits using grants but if those new recruits are smart they will take the training and keep testing for other jurisdictions.  When the opportunity presents itself firefighters will leave.

      I am sure you would like firefighter trained in law enoforcement but I bet you wouldn’t be willing to pay them for it.  Have a look at what a Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer makes in pay and benefits and then come back and tell me how overpaid San Jose personnel are.

      • How much do Sunnyvale public safety officers get paid relative to their San Jose police and fire counterparts?  How do police and fire staffing levels in Sunnyvale compare to San Jose?  Does Sunnyvale have more or fewer police and fire people per capita than San Jose?  I have never seen this sort of comparison.

        • Mr. Randall,

          I could sit here and write it all out for you but that goes against what I feel is part of the problem. Many people base their opinions, including voting decisions, based solely on what other people tell them, even when they do not even know who that other person is.  Mayor Reed pushed half truths in the media and people bought right into it and voted based on misinformation.  Do police and fire make a competitive salary with a good pension, yep, is it out of line with the rest of the region, it is now that they make much less.

          Look and SJPD and SJFD per capita numbers and you will see that San Jose does a lot with very little. Near the bottom for a large city in the U.S.  Do some homework yourself and see for yourself what the numbers are. The internet is your friend and salaries and benefits are all out there.

          When you compare make sure you compare apples to apples making sure the positions are comparable. A Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer Lieutenant makes approx. $68/hr when you break down their salary where a SJFD Fire Captain,a comparable position, makes approx $39/hr. These numbers are base amounts with no incentives added.

        • You don’t even want to know, and most of it is straight pay. While San Jose cops are giving back, Sunnyvale officers are getting pay raises. Sunnyvale is hiring right now. There are 11 San Jose police officers in background phase.

          Why is it no other city in the south bay is not in financial mess. They all pay the same pension formulas. In fact, most other agencies pay for the officers retirement contribution.

          On another note, their were 5 shootings in San Jose right after the 49er victory last Sunday. Not a word in the mercury newspaper, Why? But when the mayor wants to spend 400 million on roadways he gets a half page article.

          One year ago, we were in a fiscal emergency on the brink of bankruptcy , thank goodness the State of California came in and conducted there audit and stated that was a complete LIE! Now the mayor has two years left and wants to spend 400 million on
          roads.

          Another question, the 8 million that was taken away from the retirement systems, the so called 13th check,  why was it not put back into the system to pay for the unfunded
          liability? Why was it taken away and put back into general fund. It’s not the cities money, its the retirement systems money. They create the unfunded liability. Absolute criminal.

          And then you have Rufus and his clowns collecting a CalPERS PENSION and not paying a single dime into it, while I pay 19.38% into mine.  Sammy, please answer that question for me, or maybe the sumo wrestler will chime.

          They all know measure B is illegal, their e-mails back and forth to each other is proof of that.

          Like I said earlier in the week, what goes around comes. CAN’T WAIT!

        • ….and

          Let’s not forget that SJPD and SJFD pay nearly twice as much into their retirement as Sunnyvale and other jurisdictions. I am not saying San Jose is the worst but we are close, real close, to the bottom. If memory serves me right, I believe even Gilroy pays more than San Jose.

    • Are you prepared to pay them what Sunnyvale pays its employees?? Because nobody comes close to them in pay or compensation. This city will only get the service it is willing to pay for. Nothing more and nothing less . The only difference is that the loyalty and pride that working for this city is gone

  6. Interesting take on the support of the Police Department Mr.  Randall.  Lets look at it another way.
      How many murders in San Jose in 2012? The answer lies somewhere between 45 and 55, depending on who you ask.  An alarming number, to be sure.  And, of course, an important event which deserved media coverage.  Increase in petty crimes?  Up almost 80%.  Again, alarming and disturbing, well worth the television and newspaper coverage.
      now the important questions:

      How many field saves (saving a life in the field) by San Jose Paramedics and crews?  No idea?  Me neither.
      How many people who would have died, or had catastrophic medical or traumatic injury if not for timely intervention of the fire/paramedic crew?  No idea?  Me neither.
      How many homes/businesses saved from flame spread, major damage, or ignition of exposures to fire?  No idea?  Me neither.

      Its because you take for granted that they will always be there, on time, properly trained and oufitted means that the City Council and Reed/Figone dont want you to know how badly those capabilities have been compromised.  make no mistake, 8 minutes is BELOW the National recognized standard.  And no amount of “making things work” can solve the morale, structural and leadership problems facing the SJFD.
      You were told that the SJFD was fat, overpaid and undertrained….that they needed a little bit of “shaking up” to become more efficient.  They WERE the best trained, motivated and physically fit department in Northern California.  Now you have a demoralized, un-compassed, bitter and underpaid group of professionals waiting for quality leadership to put them back on top.  Only us, the public, can make that happen.

  7. The Wall Street Journal is a business newspaper and periodical. Judgment of how to efficiently run a Fire Department is not for Business people.  The City run Fire Departments have never been, nor should they be, a for-profit venture.  I have to call BS on NO agency able to meet standard.  Is the standard difficult to meet?  Absolutely, and there are acceptable times and response criteria adopted by Cities willing to save money at the cost of timely intervention.
      Given the nature of American Business, could you imagine what a private company would be willing to give up in order to reap more profit?  Your safety and property would be sacrificed in order to line the pockets of shareholders and CEO’s.  Think thats a stretch?  Then consider this:  Its already happening. 
      We have seen a reduction in Officers, Equipment, Fire apparatus, Fire personnel, EMS capability, and efficiency.  Have your taxes gone down?  Why not?  Because the interests of the POLITICIANS outweigh the interests of the citizens.  They collect the same cost of doing business, but sacrifice in areas regarding your safety.  For them, its a prudent gamble…..on you and your familys’ safety.  Before we get into the silliness of the “majority” of the voter approval for measure B and V/W (only 17% of the population even voted), lets consider WHAT changes have taken place in Silicon Valley.  It is ALL business driven, not quality of life driven.  Jobs are back, yes, but are they back because of the cuts to your safety….NO!  They are back due to the cyclic nature of business, and the economic uptick.  Will the decreases in pay/benefits be returned to the Fire/Police Departments?  No, the City Crime bosses are using THAT for their own projects.  AT YOUR EXPENSE! 
      This can be explained over and over again, to no avail.  Unfortunately, the information pipeline is clogged with City Hall sewer sludge.  The public are the only ones who can return San Jose to its prior level of excellence.  No one else.