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California City’s Report Recommends More Firefighters And Annual Physicals

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By Author: Ken mar
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JENNY ESPINO, Record Searchlight
Published Monday, September 21, 2015
Redding firefighters struggled one Friday evening in August with two fires that broke out on opposite ends of the city.

They were still mopping up a burned field on the east side of Churn Creek just south of the Mt. Shasta Mall when dispatch began to report a structure was engulfed in the city’s southern limits and a man was possibly trapped inside.

Some 20 minutes into the response at an old barn off Eastside Road, north of Haven Humane Society, Fire Chief Gerry Gray could be heard on the radio.

“I’m afraid to ask this, SHASCOM, but what resources do I have left?”

“None, fire chief,” the dispatcher said.

Staffing levels being what they are at the Redding Fire Department, that scenario, in which every single fire engine must respond to second-alarm fires, happens about twice a month, Gray estimates.

“I could tell you that there are long, uncomfortable moments where I am sitting there thinking, how are we going to handle the next big emergency?” he said.

According to an initial draft of the Blueprint for Public Safety, the department’s solution is to hire 12 apprentice firefighters. The addition of those positions would bring up to minimum staffing levels three of the department’s eight stations.

The $155,000 strategic plan, paid for by Redding and Shasta County, is being written by Matrix Consulting Group. The Silicon Valley consultant also suggests the department could build back up to a fire prevention program and perform more building inspections annually.

Currently, stations 1 in the downtown, 2 in the city’s west side and 7 near the Redding Municipal Airport operate with two-person engines in each of its three shifts. All others operate with three-person crews per shift — the minimum staffing levels based on industry best practices.

It’s not a requirement for fire departments, but the National Fire Protection Agency’s standard is four firefighters per engine to attack fires more efficiently and reduce the number of engines dispatched to ensure appropriate response.

Full alarm assignments to house fires require 15 fire personnel.

“There is now strong empirical evidence to suggest that the larger the crews, the more effective the firefighting contingent, with less than four-person crews performing less well than these larger staffed counterparts,” the report said.

Because the blueprint is still under construction, Gray on Friday steered away from commenting on the findings of the report and, rather, focused on operations at his department, which as far as he knew has never operated with minimum staffing standards.

Nonetheless, an evaluation of unit dispatches based on the location of stations shows first engines meeting or beating response time goals for the urban cores. In the outer areas, response time can range between four minutes and six minutes and 30 seconds, according to the Matrix analysis.

The department’s travel time goal is five minutes 90 percent of the time in the city.

“We are a proud organization and we continue working with the city to improve and enhance our service,” Gray said.

During the recession, the department lost its fire prevention educator.

The report recommends bringing back the position to reach high-risk groups, such as children and the elderly, and training one of the firefighters to serve as the public information officer at incidents.

Included in the recommendation is programming for areas with histories of arson and high emergency medical needs and for smoke detector maintenance.

The department is advised to make available fire prevention material in different languages and partner with community groups to identify other high-risk populations and to develop new programs.

Data compiled by the department and included in the blueprint found arson was on the rise from 2012 to 2014.

Figures, in general, showed the workload for the fire prevention division has remained fairly steady, with the only exceptions being a decline in the issuance of burn permits and a jump in the investigation of weed complaints.

Redding has 15,202 buildings that require inspections every three years. That means the annual quota for inspections is 5,609. Given workloads, the department’s pace is trailing. Businesses are seeing inspections every five years or so.

The report also recommends annual physicals for all firefighters who work in hot zones.

This year, the City Council allocated the money to retain nine firefighters’ whose positions were funded by a federal grant that was set to expire.

“Our goal is to get them to three,” Gray said of reaching minimum staffing levels for each station. “This council has been proactive toward getting us to that goal.”

Currently, the department has six apprentice firefighters. Three are at Station 4 and three are at Station 6. Each works in each of the three shifts alongside a captain and fire engineer.

It is worth noting that the Blueprint’s recommendation is for apprentice firefighters.

“The project team recognizes the important trade-offs necessary between public safety performance and the costs of services,” Matrix said.

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