Firefighters Fight Keeps Fire Stations Open

Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor Oakland’s Local 55 Firefighters Union ended a planned lobbying and media campaign before it got off the ground after learning that the City of Oakland was reversing a decision to continue rotating closures of two of the city’s 32 fire stations. A spokesperson for Local 55 said this week that the union had learned that beginning in July, Fire Department officials will be cutting the station “brownout” from two rotating closures to one. In an email this week sent out to Mayor Jean Quan and members of the Oakland City Council but not released by the firefighters union to media representatives, Local 55 representatives had originally called the city’s failure to end the rotating station closures a “bait-and switch…misusing almost $8 million in federal funds and endangering public safety in Oakland. … We feel that the taxpayers of Oakland have been misled, and they are being deprived of the fire protection they deserve. … This money was specifically requested, granted, and earmarked for one purpose alone: to re-open firehouses.” The Oakland Post received a copy of the Local 55 email from sources at Oakland City Hall. Local 55 representatives would not speak on the record concerning the ending of their planned lobbying and media campaign or the decision of the city to reduce the rotating fire station closures from two to one. Representatives of the Oakland Fire Department could not be contacted for comment for this story. The rotating station closures were expected to end altogether after the announcement last December that Oakland had been awarded a $7.8 million grant through the Department of Homeland Security’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program. In a report to City Administrator Deanna Santana last January, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said that “with the grant funding, the service level will be restored to [the complete] thirty-two companies,” while Santana wrote in her weekly bulletin that the grant would allow the city to “discontinue the rotational brown-outs of two engine companies each day.” However, by the time the SAFER grant came before the Oakland City Council Public Safety Committee in late February, Fire Department officials were saying that while the grant will be used to hire 24 new Oakland firefighters, it would not end the two-station rotating closures. “After talking with the grantor, the guidelines for the grant state specifically that it will only pay the cost to fund new hires,” a Fire Department staff member told Public Safety Committee members last February. “To put an engine back in service you also have the cost of a company officer and an engineer, and the grant will not pay that cost.” Because of budget problems, the Oakland Fire Department began what they called a station “brownout” procedure last summer, with two of the city’s stations closing for three-day periods on a rotating basis. Under the procedure, fire service calls are answered by the station closest to the temporarily closed station. In announcing the planned closures last year, Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Deloach Reed said that “We understand that closing fire stations could potentially impact service to Oakland residents” because of increased response times. The closures were expected to save $4 million a year in city funds.
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