Station 16 to go Brown.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
2 years ago, when the San Carlos City Council flew against the tide of public opinion and opted to terminate its fire service agreement with neighboring Belmont, the promise of “same service, less cost” confidently emanated from the City Council Chambers. It had a familiar echo to it, as it was the same mantra that predicated the decision to outsource police services in San Carlos to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. With the structural deficit facing the city, retaining its own public safety departments didn’t appear to be a feasible option.
But while the genesis of the two “new” departments seems similar on the surface, they now appear to be on distinctly different paths.
Last week, the Redwood City Fire Department (which now manages the San Carlos Fire Department) announced that Station 16 at 1280 Alameda will be shut down about 1/3 of the time over the next few months. The culprit? It’s not money this time… at least not directly. Staffing, or lack thereof, is the reason behind the brown-out of Station 16.
2 years ago when negotiations started to turn south between San Carlos and Belmont regarding the future of the JPA, and San Carlos started hinting about starting its own fire department, cautions were issued about being able to ramp up a brand new department in such a short amount of time. Even with the 18-month “divorce” period that was contractually required for the dissolution of the JPA, it was an aggressive goal — especially with all of the work required to divvy up fire assets between the two cities.
According to this article in the Daily News by Bonnie Eslinger, the department has had difficulties achieving the desired staffing level of 24 fire fighting positions, partly because of unexpected attrition and resignations, and partly because the starting salary being offered by San Carlos is one of the lowest on the Peninsula, according to the article.
To backfill, Redwood City has had to use their own firefighters to make up the difference in staffing the San Carlos station — an arrangement that will cost the City of San Carlos approximately $400,000 to reimburse Redwood City for the manpower. It appears that the next step, rather than continue to pay Redwood City extra money to keep the station open, is to close it periodically.
And for those residents who live near Station 16, that option simply stinks.
According to Deputy Fire Chief Stan Maupin, the short-term solution shouldn’t hurt response times. “The one thing we want to make sure everyone understands is that San Mateo County works on a borderless system,” Maupin said. “Redwood City or Belmont could respond. … We do that every day.”
Yes, the County works on a border-less system. Fire crews will rotate to different stations all the time for coverage when a particular crew is out on a call. But is it really possible to replicate the same response time when the system is short one full crew? Look at it another way — when Station 16 is closed, the nearest stations are the following:
- Station 13: 1.77 miles away
- Station 12: 1.83 miles
- Station 18: 2.4 miles
It’s hard to fathom how the response time can be the same for a station that’s a few blocks away versus run one that’s nearly 2 miles?
The Future of Station 16?
In the bigger picture, this may be a glimpse of things to come. As Redwood City looks at its expanded coverage over both cities, it is re-evaluating where its fire stations should be located. And from firefighters that I’ve spoken with, Station 16 looks to be expendable, and it leads the hit-list for a possible station closure/consolidation.
So maybe residents (like me) who have grown comfortable having an outstanding fire station so close by need to get accustomed to it not being there much longer…
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