July 25, 2006 > Firehouses, procedures and etcetera
Firehouses, procedures and etcetera
Fremont Fire Department is undergoing significant changes of its living and working quarters throughout the city. Some of the work has been completed while other stations are either on the drawing board or in the midst of this transformation. TCV asked Chief Bruce Martin about the status of his department.
TCV: Can you give us an overview of changes in Fremont fire facilities?
Martin: There are three major categories: major retrofits, minor retrofits and new stations. Minor retrofits were scheduled for Station 4 (Mission San Jose), 5 (Warm Springs), 9 (Stevenson) and 10 (Ardenwood). That work has been completed. Those are the newest stations in the city - built in the 90's - which required seismic, electrical, telecommunications upgrades and dormitory work to accommodate genders.
The next category is major retrofit which included Station 7 (Grimmer), 1 (Mowry) and 3 (Chapel Way). Grimmer has been completed, Station 1 is in progress and Station 3 is still in the drawing stage. Station 3 will retain the same footprint when remodeled.
Station 2 (Niles), 6 (Centerville) and 8 (North Fremont) will be relocated to new buildings. Currently we cannot park a ladder truck and some of the newer fire engines at these stations. A prime example of this is the current Centerville station where we are using 1990's fire engines with over 100,000 miles on them which is quite a bit by fire service standards.
Considering that these stations will be around for the next 50 years, the department wanted flexibility and capacity for one or two companies plus engines or trucks at any station so we can be responsive to changes in city demographics.
TCV: Station 1 located at Mowry Avenue and Argonaut Way is currently fenced off. What is happening there?
Martin: This is one of the three major remodel projects of our fire stations due to passage of the Fire Safety Bond in 2002. Work is expected to be completed in May of next year. The station has been gutted and it will be brought up to all current requirements for an "essential" building. At the same time the electrical, telecommunications and other systems will be upgraded. Instead of barrack style living quarters, the stations are converting to separate dorm rooms to accommodate gender issues.
TCV: Will the building look or function differently when finished? Where is the equipment now?
Martin: No. The footprint of the building will remain exactly the same. This station used to be called "headquarters" because that was where the administrative offices were but they are now located at city hall. Prior to its closure for remodel, it housed an engine, a ladder truck and a battalion chief. The engine is now in temporary quarters on State Street, the truck has moved to Station 9 (Stevenson Court) and the Battalion Chief has moved to Station 6 (Centerville).
In our long term plan, the ladder truck and Battalion Chief will be at the new Fire Station 6 located on Central Avenue and Dusterberry Way. Station 1 will end up with one fire engine.
TCV: Can you give us an update on the new Station 8 located on Fremont Boulevard across from the Brookvale Shopping Center?
Martin: Completion will be around September/October of this year. This will replace the existing station located in a small house conversion on Darwin Drive. The ladder truck and battalion chief from Station 1 will probably move to Station 8 temporarily until Station 6 (Centerville) is completed which will not go out to bid for another few months.
TCV: Will traffic signals be automatically triggered on Fremont Boulevard when equipment is leaving Station 8?
Martin: There will be "traffic preemption" at intersections north and south of the station as well as at Fremont Boulevard and Decoto Road. This device on the fire engine triggers signals in the area allowing easier passage through the intersection. An automatic signal is sent from the firehouse to stop cross traffic when the engines are exiting.
TCV: Will the new Centerville station include a separate classroom training facility? How will vehicles enter and exit?
Martin: That is still an option but has not risen to the top of our priorities. A training center is the last of our projects and we have not decided on the site yet. There is an extra acre of land at Centerville but we would rather find a site that can accommodate both a classroom and training tower. The Centerville station will be a drive through facility facing Central Avenue; equipment will enter from the Dusterberry Way side and exit on Central Avenue.
TCV: When rolling closures occur at Fremont fire stations, does the equipment shift or just personnel?
Martin: Just personnel. Equipment stays where it is and because we don't have the personnel to use it, only in the event of a disaster would that equipment be used.
TCV: What are the most prevalent calls to the Fremont Fire Department?
Martin: Medical calls are 55 - 60 percent of our business.
TCV: If that is the most common call, why not use smaller vehicles to respond to medical emergencies?
Martin: That model comes and goes. It works 60 - 70 percent of the time, but when there is a structure fire or a traffic accident that requires rescue, a smaller vehicle is inadequate. What we have found a Type 1 fire engine such as we use handles the bulk - 95 percent - of our calls by itself. I call this the "Swiss Army Knife Approach." It is big enough to fit in your pocket and deal with most of the calls we have.
TCV: How are emergency calls handled on freeways that border two cities? Who responds?
Martin: Fire agencies work together to decide who responds. This is probably the best example of cooperation I can cite of any place I have ever worked. Typically, the closest northbound unit and southbound unit will go. Sometimes, because traffic backs up, the response from the opposite direction can get to the scene faster.
TCV: What is the priority system for responding to calls?
Martin: Most of this is done at the dispatch level. We have call types: code 3 - lights and sirens; code 2 - get there quickly obeying all traffic laws with no lights and sirens. If two calls come in with the same level of urgency, it is 'first come, first served' but can be overridden by the Duty Chief who listens to the calls using 'situational awareness.' Mutual Aid in our county is by request and in California is given only if the sending agency can afford to give it. It is not an obligation.
TCV: How does the fire department handle traffic congestion and confusion by some drivers when confronted by an approaching emergency vehicle?
Martin: The law is for drivers to pull to the right and stop but that doesn't always happen. It can be pretty awful out there. We always have to drive with "due regard." When on an emergency call with red lights and siren, we can break some traffic laws such as going through traffic lights, stop signs, going the wrong way on a one-way street, turns, etc. However, you are never released from due regard. This is defensive driving on steroids! If everyone moved to the right, we could pass on the left, but this doesn't always happen and we may have to pass on the right, knowing that someone may become confused and pull to the right at the wrong moment.
When lanes at a major intersection are filled, the safest thing to do is to stay in place or, if possible, move over to the right, when it is safe to do so. Drivers should never feel compelled to enter an intersection when it is unsafe. Sometimes our equipment needs to wait until a light turns green and allow traffic to move out of the way. The traffic preemption technology I spoke about earlier really helps by turning signals green in the direction of travel. This loosens up intersections as emergency vehicles come from behind. The downside is that the technology is expensive.
There is newer technology now that is GIS (Geographical Information System) driven. If this is tied to the city's signal software, it will map out the route of the fire equipment and sequence lights to allow safe and rapid transit to an emergency. I have watched a demonstration of this and it is fascinating. This system increases the safety for everyone involved; it is certainly something to strive for in the future.
TCV: It is common to see fire personnel shopping at local food markets. Are they on duty? Who is paying for the food?
Martin: The fire station moves with the personnel. You can think of this as a mobile station and as fire personnel move around the community for a variety of reasons - inspections, training, maintenance, etc. - they are able to respond immediately from wherever they are. Once a day, fire personnel are allowed to shop for food (at their expense) within their response district. Over the past, fire departments have tried other methods of shopping for supplies but they have not worked well.
TCV: How often can a business expect fire department inspections? Should every business have a fire extinguisher?
Martin: Businesses that handle more hazardous materials or operations are inspected annually while an office that is considered low hazard area may be inspected once every three years. Inspection cycles can vary. At a minimum, businesses have to have a fire extinguisher for every 3,000 square feet and within 75 feet and a rating of 2-A:10-B:C that can be reached easily and is visible and obvious. It must be serviced annually by a licensed company.
TCV: What is the Fremont Fire Department doing to increase awareness and education of fire prevention and safety?
Martin: We have public relations activities. If someone calls and asks for us to visit a group or classroom, we will do that. We have to use our on duty personnel so it always a challenge since if an emergency arises during a session, we have to leave. This happens more often than what you would imagine. There are a variety of programs including a national curriculum for kids starting with "stop, drop and roll" called the "Learn Not to Burn" curriculum. We know that schools have a list of critical information to teach, so sometimes it is challenging to get into the schools.
CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and PEP (Personal Emergency Preparedness) are huge and our primary focus of education right now. This was initially prepared by on-duty firefighters, has transitioned to a group of passionate citizens who do all the PEP training and most of the CERT training. That is very empowering when citizens are teaching citizens.
TCV: What is the policy toward public visits to the fire houses?
Martin: If the crew is in quarters, we have an open door policy. If someone wants to stop by, they are welcome to visit. I am interested in creating annual open houses for the fire houses.
TCV: Is there a fire department auxiliary for teenagers or adults?
Martin: For youth, there is a Fire Explorer Post overseen by one of our firefighters and open to ages 14 - 20. They train and act as "duty drivers" doing errands and participate in special events such as staffing a booth at events. For adults, there are a variety of opportunities including CERT, PEP and "rehab" units that respond to fire incidents with water, coffee and snacks to help out. They also run the volunteer smoke detector program which will install these for those who need them (including units for hearing impaired) and cannot afford them. We also have volunteers who work in our offices and have a volunteer that teaches CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and how to use the automatic defibrillator.
TCV: Do you interact with the Mission Valley Regional Occupational Program's fire training program?
Martin: I do. I am on the advisory board. None of our folks are involved in teaching right now, but I am interested in getting them more involved. We are looking at this as a future path to hire firefighters. I am very interested in hiring from within the community as much as possible. Part of that is making local kids aware that firefighting is a potential career for them. ROP is a perfect vehicle for that.
TCV: Anything to add?
Martin: I would like our citizens to be at least minimally prepared and aware of what is needed during an emergency. The PEP class is a great way to do this. It will give them some skills and tips to make things go a lot smoother. Fire and police departments are set up to handle the day-to-day emergencies, but living in earthquake, wildfire and winter storm country, you need to be at least aware of what can happen.
Given the critical tasks that have to happen simultaneously in a structure fire, one house fire takes four engines and a ladder truck - half of our resources. Fortunately, only about three percent of our calls are for structure fires. In an emergency, we default to one emergency equaling one unit meaning one engine, ladder truck or whatever. At that point, our actions are defensive - containing fires and life safety. Fire stations will act as CERT centers but in an emergency, the firefighters will probably be gone and volunteers will handle operations as a natural gathering place where people can find help.
Fremont Fire Department: (510) 494-4200
CERT: (510) 494-4243
Explorers: (510) 791-4107
Smoke Detector Program: (510) 494-4246
Fire Prevention: (510) 494-4280