Gary Bloom is one of two newcomers seeking a seat on the board. He said he wants to transition his experience in relief services and administration to the fire district.
Bloom has volunteered for San Mateo County Sheriff Search and Rescue, Rock Medicine, which provides medical services at concert venues, and California Task Force 3 search and rescue, as well as serving as CEO of the company MarkLogic. He said that he brings a combination of hands-on experience and business knowledge to the table.
One issue driven by Bloom's experience on rescue teams is the availability of ambulances. If elected, he aims to have ambulance service provided from within the fire district in hopes of decreasing response time. He proposes that the Menlo Park Fire Protection District replicate the process of Palo Alto or South San Francisco and integrate ambulances into the fire service's paramedic response.
"The community still sees some relatively long ambulance delays, and being a hands-on medical person, I've kind of felt what it's like when you're with your patient and you get a very long response time from the ambulance service," Bloom said.
Bloom said one of his areas of focus on the board would be fiscal management, pointing to his experience in the corporate world. Another priority would be to make sure that residents' voices are heard in the fire district, and that their concerns are taken into account.
"I think it's important that the community members in Atherton and Menlo Park and East Palo Alto really have a voice at the table," Bloom said. "... So my ability to build relationships and communicate with people and learning what their needs are, and representing those in front of the board, I think will be critical to success."
Bloom's other goals include navigating the idea of forming a countywide fire organization and improving emergency preparedness for what he calls an "inevitable" natural disaster due to climate change.
"I like to give back to the community," Bloom said. "... And I think I can add value to the board and add value to the community and make sure the community is represented within the board."
Financial literacy and disaster preparedness are the cornerstones of incumbent Chuck Bernstein's goals on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors.
Bernstein has served on the board of directors since 2013 and is currently serving as president of the board. He has earned a doctoral degree in languages and literature from Stanford and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Bernstein represents special districts on the Countywide Oversight Board of the Former Redevelopment Agencies, which controls over $400 million in former redevelopment agency properties.
"It takes a long time to kind of master these things, to understand what the criteria are when you're buying equipment or when you're buying facilities, and I feel like I have that experience now and knowledge," Bernstein said. "And I just hope to have the opportunity to apply it for another four years."
Bernstein has a long history in administrative work as president and founder of Early Learning Institute, an educational organization based in Palo Alto, and as a business consultant. He believes that his background makes him particularly well suited for the board, where he emphasizes their annual budget of $75 million is higher than that of the cities of Menlo Park or East Palo Alto.
One project Bernstein has focused on while on the board is creating a civilian disaster response group, a community network to come together and support each other. He's also focused on financial reform within the board, changing the way that supplies are ordered and bringing in someone for professional financial organization.
He stated that the position on the board has made him better suited to planning for large-scale disasters, as he hopes to do in creating the civilian organization, since the district often only has 35 firefighters on active duty at any given time, and needs a system in place.
"Professionals are good at what they do, which is those everyday emergencies. But I don't think the professionals are very good at preparing for the kinds of things where you really can't practice because you don't know what you're faced with."
If elected for another term, Bernstein will look to reflecting the demographics of the community more closely in the fire department. Namely, he wants to hire firefighters who choose to live locally for a quicker response time, stating that most district firefighters can afford to live in the area but choose not to.
He is proud of the board's increased involvement in the financial operations of the district. In 2022, with Bernstein serving as the president of the board of directors, the board reviewed the budget in full for the first time in its history, according to Bernstein. In the past, the board had only reviewed a summary. The board also purchased six new fire engines and put the district on a new fleet program where they could improve the equipment again in 10 years. This came about after hearing advice from a fire captain, and Bernstein also said he is proud of improved communication between the different levels of the organization.
"I'm a proponent of really good government, it bothers me when when government pays too much for things or does things in the most awkward or least efficient manner, and this happens in a way because the management of the fire district, by and large, have been people who were firefighters who then moved up, and then they were put in charge of something for which they had no training, no background, no experience," Bernstein said. "And when you manage a small business, you learn about facilities, you learn about equipment, you learn about financing, you learn about accounting, you have to kind of know a little bit about everything."
Incumbent Robert Jones is aiming to bring diversity and community to the fire district.
Jones has a rich history involved in the development of affordable housing as a founder of EPA CAN DO, a Community Housing and Development Organization, and has served on its board for nine years. He has also served on the board of Jobtrain (previously OICW) and project developer for Eden Housing, Inc. Jones was the recipient of a fellowship from the Housing Association of Northern California to learn the technical aspect of affordable housing development for 18 months.
"I do believe that when we have a difference of backgrounds on the board, different experiences on the board, it can blend into a unique experience," Jones said. He added that a difference of backgrounds can lead to a "rich environment."
Jones was the first Black man to be elected to the Menlo Park Fire Protection District Board of Directors in 2018, and was the first East Palo Alto resident to serve as president of the board in 2020.
He said he is proud of the processes put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep first responders as safe as possible from the virus. He said that it involved a heavy amount of collaboration with the city councils in the fire district to deal with the needs of various communities in the pandemic.
Looking forward, Jones said he aims to provide firefighters with better equipment and training within the district. He also wants to bring diverse perspectives to the team of firefighters, and look in his own community in East Palo Alto for candidates.
If reelected, Jones said he wants to push for the board to have an operating plan, which he said is sorely lacking.
"Even though the board has the ultimate responsibility to ensure the lawful and efficient operators of the fire district ... the board has no operating and strategic operating plan," Jones said.
Candidate Dionis Papavradimis, a software engineer at IBM who graduated from college in Athens, could not be reached by The Almanac by its Wednesday press deadline.
Register to Vote
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