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.