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Menlo Fire and the Santa Clara County Grand Jury Report

Original post made by Roy Desoto on Jun 17, 2011

Some excerpts from the Santa Clara County Grand Jury report regarding Fire Services.

With Menlo Fire's bloated budget, one has to wonder if they have any incentives to conduct business more efficiently.

I am particularly intrigued with the observation that building code changes have resulted in "decreased business", so the fire fighting organization have branched out into other service offerings, including medical response.

*****

Most fire departments in the county are organized around the same service model, where firefighters are the first responders to a non-police emergency, providing paramedic support as needed, and calling in ambulance for transporting patients to hospital.

Organized firefighting in America was established over a century ago primarily to guard against loss of property. (See Appendix A for an overview of fire department evolution in SCC.) Over time, the nature of emergency calls has changed.

By the 1970s, calls for fire service were dwindling dramatically, largely due to the development and enforcement of stringent building codes calling for, among other things, the use of fire-retardant building materials and the installation of sprinkler systems in most buildings. In response to the decline in "business" that code improvements created, fire departments broadened their service models and capabilities, creating an "all hazards" approach to emergency services delivery.

This shift would increase business, retain jobs and prevent station closures. Fire departments are now the first responder to any number of emergency situations—including property and car fires, medical emergencies, natural hazards and disasters, domestic and international terrorism, and a variety of unique situations, including the disposal of diseased chickens.

Given the "all hazards" nature of today's firefighting business, and the fact that the vast majority of the emergencies to which firefighters respond to in SCC are not fire related, the question arises whether it makes sense to respond to all emergencies using a fire-emergency model.

In their responses to Grand Jury questions regarding firefighter staffing and salary levels, some interviewees described firefighting as "the best part-time job in America, "conceding these well-rewarded firefighters wear "golden handcuffs." Others acknowledged that firefighters are paid for "23 hours of sitting around for one hour of work" because that is how "insurance" works.

Comments (20)

Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2011 at 8:56 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Roy - Rest assured that your Fire District has long been the leading advocate for wide spread fire and emergency services consolidation. MPFPD lead the way for the current San Mateo County wide fire dispatch system (which santa Clara County still does not have) and boundary drops.

See the many prior Forum Topics on this issue:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

And I can assure you there is nothing bloated about the Fire District's budget - read it and tell us where you see any fat:

Web Link


Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2011 at 11:23 am

Roy Desoto says

"With Menlo Fire's bloated budget, one has to wonder if they have any incentives to conduct business more efficiently."

Peter has asked you to give an example of the fat, or bloated budget you claim. I also would like to see it.

I'm sure it is just a coincidence, but your name is the same as a fictional firefighter/paramedic for the Los Angeles County Fire Squad Engine 51..Show called Emergency.


Posted by Roy Desoto, a resident of another community
on Jun 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Without getting lost in the minutiae of the MPFPD budget, let me point out that Menlo Fire has a per capita cost of $324. Redwood City Fire accomplishes the same thing for $208 per capita.

Menlo Fire's budget is $31 million / year and serves 95,455 people. If Menlo Fire delivered services for Redwood City Fire's $208 per capita, their budget would be only $19.8 million.

I contend the extra $11.1 million Menlo Fire requires is caused by "bloat". It is the result of the organization expanding to use the full $31 million provided by Prop 13 and now complaining that it doesn't have enough to make ends meet due to salaries, pensions, and other infrastructure which should probably never have been acquired.

My original point, however, was about the Santa Clara County Grand Jury report. I think you miss the big picture. They advocate a paradigm shift in service delivery.

Instead of acknowledging their findings or rising to their challenge, we are given the entrenched bureaucratic line that the budget isn't fat.

Squad 51, do you copy?!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2011 at 7:33 pm

"I think you miss the big picture. They advocate a paradigm shift in service delivery."

Roy, you are way behind the times. MPFPD has been working on the service delivery issue for years. Unfortunately the County prohibits MPFPD from operating its own ambulances.

Do your homework and read the other referenced topics and the MPFPD budget - which is fully burdened with all of our overhead costs. The Redwood City figures you cite don't include the cost of their stations, the property that they stand or the city's overhead including management and things llke accounting and human resources.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Roy states: "Menlo Fire's budget is $31 million / year and serves 95,455 people for a per capita cost of $324"

So let's look at other nearby fire districts (whose budgets reflect totally burdened overhead) as reported in the Santa Clara Grand Jury report:

Los Altos Hills Fire District $871 per capita.

Saratoga Fire District $375 per capita.

And then Palo Alto (which is probably not a fully burdened cost) $419 per capita.

Next question?


Posted by Roy Desoto, a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2011 at 8:11 am

OK, let's remove the overhead. Assuming the $3.3 million "Admin Division" contains some of what you claim, let's be generous and remove it all. Doing so drives down the per capita to $290. A bit higher than Redwood's $208?

Since you're determined to get lost in the weeds, lets talk about the $0.62 per capita for "Board of Director Benefits". Fat, gristle, or bloat?

Then there's the $9.41 per capita for "Public Education" (some of which is warranted, but $10/head does strike me as high).

I stopped at that point, but I'm sure there's more to be found ...


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2011 at 8:20 am

Roy - you asked for comparisons but then you did not respond to them:

Los Altos Hills Fire District $871 per capita.

Palo Alto (which is probably not a fully burdened cost) $419 per capita.

Saratoga Fire District $375 per capita.

MPFPD $324 per capita

With regards to Redwood City they have a deficit and are closing stations and taking equipment out of service which MPFPD, which has a balanced budget, is not doing. Ironically we will now have to provide more mutual aid to Redwood City to cover for their closures. Sure you can have a lower per capita cost but for that you get less service.

Roy - where do you live and what level of service do you have?


Posted by Peter Principal, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2011 at 11:17 am

Peter Carpenter says
"Sure you can have a lower per capita cost but for that you get less service."

I am wondering if this principal applies to the "cut and paste" example of cost per person and total sqaure feet of each service area cited on neighboring police jurisdictions.You quote this list ad nausium on outsourcing Atherton police services topics but you have never implied you get less service.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2011 at 11:29 am

"you have never implied you get less service."

Wrong - I repeatedly stated that each of the cited communities that outsourced its police service made specific choices at to its desired level of service and hence the difference in per capita costs of Woodside (which desired additional services) and Portola Valley (which did not desire additional services)

For example her are some of my postings on this specific issue:

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Sep 1, 2010 at 6:43 am

the Sheriff services Woodside for $1.3 million and that covers 11.8 square miles (30.5 kmē) and, using the census of 2000, 5,352 people or $242 per capita - and this includes extra patrols over and above the normal County service level.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Sep 3, 2010 at 11:15 am

The good people of Atherton can purchase whatever level of police services they want from the Sheriff - Woodside has chosen a different package of services than has San Carlos and Atherton could pick its own package. As Pogo says - ask the Sheriff for a bid. And why should every Atherton resident pay for the alarm monitoring only used by some residents?

**************

So, before making totally false statements please do your homework.


Posted by Peter Principal, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Gosh, maybe I should do my homework but I get confused so easily by your posts: For example your post like this sort of compares Wodside to Atherton but I am sure you will correct me, Peter.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Jun 9, 2011 at 8:53 am

Atherton


Police budget $4.9 M




$681 per capita






Woodside


Police services via County Sheriff $1.3 M




$242 per capita




Atherton could save AT LEAST $2,000,000 EVERY YEAR.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Sep 4, 2010 at 1:31 pm

The Sheriff will provide the staffing levels desired by the Town and the cost will avry accordingly. Portola Valley has contracted for a lower level of service than has Woodside hence $111 per capita vs $242.

For $400 per capita Atherton could easily get everything Woodside gets plus a 24 hour substation, alarm monitoring and key service - but probably not plant watering. The only way to know for sure is to decide what the Town wants and then get a bid for those services.

****************

New visitors to this Forum are encouraged to watch posters (or perhaps posers is a better descriptor) who abuse the good graces of the Forum Editors simply to attack others. These individuals can be easily recognized by their one-time anonymous names which they use thereby ensuring both zero personal accountability and zero source credibility.
They make patently false statements and when challenged post non sequitur answers.

Readers beware of the posers who use cute anonymous names and spout untruths.


Posted by Roy Desoto, a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2011 at 8:40 am

Mr. Carpenter,

You claim I asked for comparisons, but I can't find such a request in any of the above writings. I've no doubt other agencies have fat and may cost more. Does that let MPFPD off the hook?

Though you may find my anonymity annoying, I don't think my observations rise to the level of "patently false". Many points are grounded in fact, such as numbers taken directly from the MPFPD budget.

Also, I don't see any of my writings as an attack upon you. I don't get why you would be so sensitive to this matter. These forums are here to discuss issues such as these. The forum editors should be pleased, not troubled.

Both you and Michael Stogner challenged me to find fat in the MPFPD budget. With approximately 10 minutes of work, I found the following:

+ Health benefits for the Board of Directors at $0.64 per capita.
+ Public education funding at $9.41 per capita.

Additionally, there's the anecdotal evidence that things are bloated based on my recollection of the following:

+ A surplus, unoccupied MPFPD owned building recently set alight by transients
+ Staff which has grown to the point of no longer fitting in its old office space, requiring a separate, expanded facility at $1.35 million.

I realize you are a supporter of the MPFPD. You regularly defend the MPFPD. I've no doubt it's a great organization. I do, however, find it troubling that you frequently hold them up to be the model governmental body. You criticize many other organizations, stating that their cost per capita number is inferior to MPFPD's. When you put MPFPD on such a pedestal, you're inviting criticism.

My view of the MPFPD is that they have an enormous budget of $31 million to cover 3 municipalities and pockets of unincorporated area. MPFPD grandstands about how great a job they do maintaining a balanced budget. But, with such a large number of dollars, it shouldn't be too challenging.

That's one of the points in the SCC CGJ report: Fire agencies find expanded missions to use their budget. Over time, MPFPD has taken on more missions (paramedic, disaster response, water rescue, building inspection, hazmat, and possibly dead chicken disposal). Is all of it being done efficiently?

In the end, MPFPD is guaranteed a certain level of funding. They got lucky when Prop 13 was enacted and got an incredible portion of the property tax allocated to their special district. So, there's no incentive to economize. If they used fewer dollars to operate, they would not refund the excess to the populace. I get it.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 19, 2011 at 9:00 am

The Public Education program educates the public on general fire safety practices, both in the home and in the workplace. Programs offered to the public include home injury and fire prevention, fire extinguisher training, child car seat inspection and installation, senior car safety, smoke detector inspection and installation and juvenile fire setter intervention.
Roy - which of these Public Education items would you eliminate?

"Over time, MPFPD has taken on more missions (paramedic, disaster response, water rescue, building inspection, hazmat, and possibly dead chicken disposal)." Roy - Given that we don't do chicken disposal which of the other missions would you eliminate?

Also, as asked before where do you live and what level of emergency service do you have/want - fully staffed stations like MPFPD or closed stations like many other jurisdictions that have not managed to run a balanced budget given their tax revenues?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 19, 2011 at 9:03 am

Roy states:'Though you may find my anonymity annoying, I don't think my observations rise to the level of "patently false""

I thought that Roy Desoto was your real name and my comment was addressed to Peter Principle.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 19, 2011 at 10:25 am

Roy states:"Additionally, there's the anecdotal evidence that things are bloated based on my recollection of the following:

+ A surplus, unoccupied MPFPD owned building recently set alight by transients

+ Staff which has grown to the point of no longer fitting in its old office space, requiring a separate, expanded facility at $1.35 million."

Anecdotal evidence is a contradiction in terms.

The 'surplus building' in question was a vacant home on a parcel of land purchased to expand Station 2 - necessary given the significant population growth of the area served by that station. Construction on this project was required by EPA to be delayed until the end of the Spring flooding period.

The new administrative building on Middlefield was purchased and remodeled as the much less expensive alternative to expanding Station 1 which also is now serving a much larger population than when it was last expanded. Building fire station space is much more expensive per square foot than was the cost of the moving all of the administrative functions out of Station 1 to a separate administrative building and freeing up that space for operational uses.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2011 at 7:02 am

I encourage real citizens to stop by the Fire District's administrative headquarters at 170 Middlefield and see for yourself - a clean and comfortable renovated building designed both for public service and to serve the public.

Don't rely on cute descriptions by anonymous posers with using cute names.


Posted by Roy Desoto, a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Peter says, "The Public Education program educates the public on general fire safety practices, both in the home and in the workplace. Programs offered to the public include home injury and fire prevention, fire extinguisher training, child car seat inspection and installation, senior car safety, smoke detector inspection and installation and juvenile fire setter intervention."

@ $9.41 per year per person in the fire district.

Let me point out that I found this line item after 10 minutes of poking through the budget. It's probably indicative of the fat, not necessarily the only fat. So , let's not get wrapped around the axle trying to figure out what part of the program to cut.

My point is $9.41 for every resident of the district seems a tad high. It suggests that the program is either not efficient or is over-reaching. Based on your description, I'm inclined to believe the latter.

The list reflects exactly what the SCC CGJ stated -- a bureaucracy inventing a mission to use all of its budget.

In my opinion, the most worthy thing on that list is fire setter prevention. Couple that with an annual visit to schools for show and tell and you've got a cost effective winner. Indeed, several other elements could also be taught.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2011 at 9:09 pm

Roy - Man up - you didn't answer the question:

The Public Education program educates the public on general fire safety practices, both in the home and in the workplace. Programs offered to the public include home injury and fire prevention, fire extinguisher training, child car seat inspection and installation, senior car safety, smoke detector inspection and installation and juvenile fire setter intervention.

Roy - which of these Public Education items would you eliminate?


Posted by Roy Desoto, a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Man Up? Really?! Are you ready to "throw down" too?

I did answer the question. Apparently, it wasn't sufficiently black and white for you: Pitch all of it but the juvenile fire setter intervention. And, do that at the schools during show & tell, so it's low cost.

Fire extinguishers are pretty much point and shoot. The frivolous lawsuits, I am certain, have reduced the instructions to a bunch of symbols.

AAA and the cops inspect child seats. No point in stealing their thunder. Particularly not for $10/head for everyone in the District.

Likewise, elderly drivers? Are you kidding me?? Why would the Menlo Park Fire Department be playing in this domain? Seems to be a disconnect between their mission and where to spend their money.

And, finally, when was the last time (outside of building permits) that the [portion deleted] fire department came by your house to inspect the smoke detectors. Did they bring batteries? Sounds as silly as the Atherton cops watering the lawns and picking up the dog poop.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 22, 2011 at 8:34 am

The problem Roy is that you are blindly cheery picking the budget and time and time again your suggestions come up short. Leadership is about making hard choices with good facts not just throwing out wild ideas.

Roy states:"AAA and the cops inspect child seats."

AAA -"Please allow up to 6-8 weeks for a time slot"

Menlo Park Police Dept - " There is a $40 charge for Menlo Park residents, and a $100 charge for non-Menlo Park residents.


Just an example of why quick, off the cuff budget cutting proposals are not usually very workable.

Smoke detectors - "Volunteers working with the Menlo Park Fire Protection District will visit 130 homes in East Palo Alto Saturday to inspect and install smoke detectors. Members of the Kiwanis Club will assist the effort. This is the fifth smoke detector installation effort since two East Palo Alto children died in a Christmas Day fire."


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