Firefighters duck gunfire | December 19, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - December 19, 2012

Firefighters duck gunfire

by Sue Dremann

Firefighters returning to their East Palo Alto station ran for cover after two rival gangs engaged in a gun battle in front of their quarters about three weeks ago, Menlo Park Fire Protection District officials confirmed Friday, Dec. 14.

It was just one of many such dangerous gunfire incidents station employees have experienced in the past couple of months, including an incident that occurred Thursday night, Dec. 13, Division Chief Frank Fraone said.

Three weeks ago, as crew members were backing fire apparatus into the station, they heard gunfire and sought cover inside the fire station and vehicles. The gun battle between the occupants of two cars caused a bullet to strike a bulletproof-glass window and ricochet into the window frame of the station on University Avenue. A second round struck the garage roll-up door where trucks and equipment are stored, Mr. Fraone said.

No one was injured during the incident, which was followed by another round of shooting outside the station Dec. 13, he said.

In the past two months, the station has been hit four times, he said. Bullet holes have damaged the fire station and firefighters' vehicles a number of times.

The department added 2-inch-thick outside fencing to deflect bullets on the side of firefighters' sleeping and living quarters, bulletproof glass in the office window, and extra-thick walls in the patio area, he said. Damage to the station has been the result of direct gunfire or stray bullets, he said.

Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, Battalion Chief Ben Marra and Mr. Fraone recently met with the city of East Palo Alto officials to discuss recent gang and violent activity, Mr. Fraone said.

The meeting offered "nothing assuring," other than an acknowledgment that violence has been on the rise and police are launching a crackdown, with other city police departments and county agencies, to dismantle the gangs, he said.

East Palo Alto police Chief Ronald Davis could not be reached for comment.

More than a dozen shootings and several murders in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park are attributed to a violent feud between the "Taliban" in Menlo Park and the "DaVill" in East Palo Alto, Chief Davis said in November.

On Nov. 27 he announced a concerted violence-reduction campaign called Operation SMART. Palo Alto and Menlo Park police agencies are working with East Palo Alto to quash the crime wave.

Other programs, including Operation Ceasefire, call in gang members for face-to-face discussions with police and contact with faith leaders and social services agencies to bring services to those who want to opt out of the gang life.

At a recent officers' conference, chief officers and company supervisors with the fire district reviewed and discussed precautionary safety measures related to gunfire incidents. Personnel don body armor when they respond to medical calls about shootings and extra police secure the scenes before emergency personnel and firefighters arrive, Mr. Fraone said.

The department will be building a new station, which could have bullet-resistant Kevlar lining in the sleeping and living area walls, he said. Temporary housing is about to be brought in so that the new station can be built, he said. Construction is planned to begin in the spring.


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