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Year in review: A rough-and-tumble 2018 for the Menlo fire district

Original post made on Jan 3, 2019

The year 2018 was a challenging one for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, with criticism from a county grand jury, from the Atherton town government, and from a number of residents who were unhappy about a contract for firefighters.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 2, 2019, 4:51 PM

Comments (26)

11 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 3, 2019 at 1:18 pm

There’s often two sides to every story. I suspect there is much more that could be said for a more complete story, especially show casing the many good things the Fire District does all year.


13 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2019 at 2:18 pm

The Almanac says the sky is falling at the fire district? Balanced budget, high reserves, keeping up with the growth of the community, and a 98.5% approval rating from an independent source....Almanac get real, pick on something else that needs attention.... Atherton Town Civic Center, terrible communte traffic, Almanac... how about those issues!


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 3, 2019 at 7:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Good news doesn't sell newspapers and the Almanac is in the business of selling newspapers.

Interested citizens can use the Fire District's web site to be better informed about the accomplishments of their Fire District:

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 3, 2019 at 7:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For example:

PRESSRELEASE
Menlo Park Fire Protection District 170 Middlefield Rd Menlo Park, CA 94025 650-688-8400 Fax: 650-323-9129
For Immediate Release
Date: January 3, 2019
Contact: Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief
Phone: (650)380-1006 Cellular
Fire District prepares to expand
Essential Emergency services to East
Palo Alto and Menlo Park
SAVE THE DATE:
The Menlo Park Fire Protection District will be holding two
truly historic and landmark ground breaking dedication
ceremonies on Monday, January 7, 2019.
The first event is in the City of East Palo Alto:
1.30 pm – Fire Station Two located at 2290 University Avenue
Dedication of our new Tillered Aerial Ladder Truck Company – Truck 2
The second event is in Menlo Park (Belle Haven):
3 pm – Fire Station Seventy-seven located 1467 Chilco Street
Dedication of our new Light Rescue – Rescue Squad 77
Why are these events significant and important?
The eastern side of the Fire District (from Highway 101 to the Bay) includes the majority of the City of East
Palo Alto and City of Menlo Park’s Belle Haven residential neighborhoods, M2 commercial and industrial
areas.
These areas are experiencing incredible and unprecedented transformation in population growth, zoning changes
that include increased building heights and floor area ratio’s or density based upon a regional economic and
employment boom that has resulted in increased call volume and significant traffic congestion which can
challenge and decay current acceptable emergency response and readiness times.
In order to maintain and improve readiness, emergency response times and technical rescue capabilities in these
areas, the Fire District has been working for several decades to add, replace and upgrade essential emergency
services such as personnel staffing, the number of response units, our capabilities and Fire Stations in order to
adequately support a critical and “effective fire force” for this area of the greater benefit to the community and
entire Fire District.
Historical Timeline:
• 1995 – The Fire District negotiates a 55 year land lease with the City of Menlo Park to add a seventh
Fire Station in the Belle Haven and M2 areas of Menlo Park. Emergency response to these areas had
historically come from Fire Station 1, located at 300 Middlefield Road near Willow Road.
• 1997 - Fire Station 77 is opened at 1467 Chilco Street. It is one of two Fire District Stations now located
on the East side of Highway 101. It is staffed by three personnel operating a Type 1 (Heavy) Fire Engine.
• 2004 – A Citygate District wide Standards of Cover (SOC) Study identifies that a single ladder truck
located at Fire Station 1 may not be adequate for covering the entire Fire District going forward.
• 2006 – The Fire District re-prioritizes its Fire Station Modernization Program. Four of seven stations
need to be completely rebuilt. Fire Station 2 in East Palo Alto is selected as the District’s highest priority
because its condition is categorized as poor and it is the District’s busiest Station. It will take another decade
to accomplish the goal of building and opening a new modern fire facility.
• 2010 – An updated Citygate Standards of Cover (SOC) Study associated with the proposed
Gateway (Bohannon) development project concludes “the Gateway Project pushes the District into a
new era of taller, more intense land use and resultant fire service impacts. The District clearly cannot
be served by one ladder truck has no reserve ladder truck. Thus, if the Gateway Project is approved,
the District will have passed the threshold of needing a second ladder truck. Given the proximity to
the Gateway Project and other likely future high-rise development, Citygate recommends that the
second ladder truck be located at a station east of Highway 101 (e.g., Station 2 or Station 77). If the
Gateway project were approved, we would recommend that the District consider relocating the
existing ladder truck from Station 1 to Station 4 or Station 6 to better cover the western areas of the
Fire District”.
• 2010 – The City of Menlo Park changed its zoning designations in the M2 and updated its
General Plan. Where building height had been capped at three stories, it was increased up to eleven
stories or 140 feet. Where land use development had been allowable to up to 55 percent of the total
square footage of a lot, it was increased to 137.5 percent of the same property. The “intensification”
changes were significant, especially as it applied to the Fire District who had specifically partnered
with the City of Menlo Park and built and staffed Fire Station 77 on what would be an outdated
threat profile.
• 2011 – 2019 - Facebook moves its operations from Palo Alto to Menlo Park and begins an
unprecedented expansion and growth. It currently owns over 150 acres of land in the City with
extensive lease holdings in Menlo Park with an estimated employee population of 25,000.
• 2013 – 2019 - The breakup of the former Belmont/San Carlos Fire Department eventually results
in the consolidation of the Redwood City and San Carlos Fire Departments and Belmont and San
Mateo Fire Departments. While all of these jurisdictions celebrate the net cost savings and efficiency
benefits of these new arrangements, the Fire District under automatic aid notes the elimination of a
Ladder Company and Battalion Chief in the San Carlos/Belmont corridor and a doubling of the
geographic distance between the current location of Redwood City Truck 9 and San Mateo Truck 23.
• 2016 – Fire Station 2 located at 2290 University Avenue is re-opened. The new two story, 12,000 square
foot, three bay, drive thru modernized fire facility can now accommodate the largest piece of fire apparatus,
including a tiller ladder truck. Minimum Daily Staffing is increased from 25 to 26 by adding a fourth person
on Engine 2.
• 2017 – Minimum Daily Staffing is increased from 26 to 27 by putting two personnel on a new smaller
light duty Rescue Squad. Station 2 staffing now consists of three personnel on Engine 2 and two personnel
on Rescue 2. The prior two person Rescue unit was taken out of service to help support the Staffing of Fire
Station 77 in 1997, twenty years prior.
• 2018 - Minimum Daily Staffing is increased from 27 to 28 by putting a fourth person on Quint 77, which
replaces Engine 77. The Quint is a combination Engine/Aerial unit which provides an interim step towards
moving to a full four person dedicated Truck Company. It will become the new Reserve Truck once Truck 2
goes into service and Engine 77 will be placed back in service with three personnel.
• 2019 - Minimum Daily Staffing is increased from 28 to 31by putting Truck 2 into service.
In Summary:
Prior to the re-opening of the new Fire Station 2 in East Palo Alto in 2016, and existing Fire Station 77 in Belle
Haven (City of Menlo Park), the Fire District operated two Type 1 (Heavy) Municipal Fire Engines staffed by
three personnel each, for a total of two emergency first response units and six personnel.
Fire Chief Schapelhouman said “Effective January 7, 2019, the Fire District will operate four emergency first
response units staffed by twelve personnel, or a doubling of capability and the number of units and personnel
needed to adequately maintain an effective and essential fire force in this growing area that has challenged our
emergency mobility and coverage ability due to traffic congestion and problematic roadway designs on Marsh
and Willow Roads along with sections of University Avenue. This will also better stabilize our West side units
located in our Atherton, Menlo Park and County Areas, that will see a decrease in emergency unit requests for
response and coverage assignments, improving readiness and reflex times District wide”.
As the new Fire Station 6 in downtown Menlo Park nears completion, the District has re-prioritized Fire Station
4 built, in 1943, and located on the Alameda at Valparaiso in the Unincorporated County Area as its highest Fire
Station replacement priority. Design work on a new Station has already started. The new proposed three bay
drive thru design will be built to accommodate an Aerial Ladder Truck, Fire Engine and Battalion Chief.
“We are now looking three distinct and problematic response areas, while we may have temporarily resolved
many of our deployment issues east of Highway 101, the areas on either side of El Camino Real and specifically
the rail corridor will need to be addressed next. Proposals to reduce the number of traffic lanes along El
Camino Real, coupled with new multiple high density residential developments along the rail corridor,
electrification, high speed and potential elimination of rail crossings all deeply concern me. I have little
confidence that the convergence and impacts of these issues will be well timed and/or managed, so we will need
to realistically assume they will all occur and thus start to prepare and plan to re-adjust our unit deployment
and staffing models now. Our ideal goal is to be either slightly ahead of, or right behind, these impacts when
they actually occur so they don’t significantly deteriorate or impact public safety and our ability to effectively
respond” Fire Chief Schapelhouman said.
END


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 3, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Citizen:

As Peter said, the Almanac is in the business of selling papers. It't the old dog bites man vs. man bites dog. Dog bites man sells papers. The truly unfortunate thing is that the Almanac has had a hard on for Peter for quite some time because he doesn't just roll over and allow them to put out misinformation (or "spin" about the fire district.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 3, 2019 at 10:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Here is a real life opportunity to see if the Almanac is interested in positive news about the Fire District or instead remains committed to the Barbara Woods' sensationalist approach of always casting the Fire District in the worst possible terms.

As the above MPFPD press release reports the Fire District has dramatically increased its investment in the neighborhoods East of 101 - will the Almanac report that simple but dramatic fact? Will they even allow this comment to stay posted?


24 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 4, 2019 at 1:14 pm

When you don't like the message, attack the messenger. Is anything stated in the article untrue? Like MPFPD being the highest paid local or state agency for the second consecutive year? If so, please set the record straight.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 4, 2019 at 1:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Is anything stated in the article untrue? "

Yes:
"members of the public challenged the board by flooding their inboxes with messages in opposition"

There were less than 20 emails from the more than 90,000 residents served by the Fire District.


4 people like this
Posted by @peter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 4, 2019 at 3:36 pm

So they ARE the highest paid? One assumes gold plated retirement as well?

All ya got is "but emails"?

Whoah. Bad management.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 4, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"So they ARE the highest paid?"

No.

There are thousands of firefighters in California who are paid more than the highest paid MPFPD firefighter - see

Web Link

An agency that places a priority on first responders will have a higher average salary than an agency which has a greater number of non-first responders. An easy way for an agency to lower its average salary is to hire a number of part time, low paid clerical staff - that does nothing to provide better fire and medical response.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 4, 2019 at 8:28 pm

While I respect Mr. Carpenter's opinion and statement: "An agency that places a priority on first responders will have a higher average salary than an agency which has a greater number of non-first responders. An easy way for an agency to lower its average salary is to hire a number of part time, low paid clerical staff - that does nothing to provide better fire and medical response.", I think that would contradict what Manhathan's fire fighters are paid, especially in comparison to what others in that part of the city are making.

He was also someone who compared fire fighters' salaries to the military and their level of responsibility and authority. A lieutenant colonel, sometimes responsible for about 800 soldiers, makes about $110,000/year. How much are Menlo Park fire fighters making? I'm sure a Lt. Col would like to make what the chief is earning.

Mr. Carpenter's statement also potentially under values other agencies that don't pay at the same rate. I'm sure first responders in San Mateo or Palo Alto are valued just as much as Menlo Park but may not pay the same.

This is not to under value what are fire fighters do, but let's do an appropriate comparison of salaries and jobs. MP fire gets several applicants every time a job is posted - part because of salary and part because of reputation. I'll bet if you lowered the salary, you would still have lots of applicants.


22 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 4, 2019 at 8:51 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

" I'll bet if you lowered the salary, you would still have lots of applicants."

I'll bet you're right.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 5, 2019 at 2:52 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"MP fire gets several applicants every time a job is posted - part because of salary and part because of reputation."


MPFPD actually has hundreds of applicants every time it announces a vacancy.
Why? Because MPFPD has a reputation as one of the best fire agencies in the entire country, it has superb leadership, it is financial sound and it provides competitive wages and benefits.

Three MPFPD firefighters are working well beyond the 30 years of service required to retire on a full pension - essentially working for 10% of their salaries.
Why? Because MPFPD has a reputation as one of the best fire agencies in the entire country, it has superb leadership, it is financial sound and it provides competitive wages and benefits.

MPFPD has almost zero turnover.
Why? Because MPFPD has a reputation as one of the best fire agencies in the entire country, it has superb leadership, it is financial sound and it provides competitive wages and benefits.

MPFPD has no vacant positions - compared to other local agencies that have scores of vacancies.
Why? Because MPFPD has a reputation as one of the best fire agencies in the entire country, it has superb leadership, it is financial sound and it provides competitive wages and benefits.

Because of this superb staffing MPFPD responds to every call in less than 8 min 24/7/365 because its most important mission is service. And that service standard is what inspires and motivates the proud professional women and men of our Fire District.


43 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 5, 2019 at 8:39 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Sorry Peter. MPFPD gets hundreds of applicants for every opening because they are paying exorbitant salaries and have an insane overall compensation package. Now, that's between the Fire District and their union, but if they weren't getting that compensation package you'd have far lower response. Especially considering what is required for MPFPD to hire those people. Those people that are eligible have to come out of pocket for a LARGE amount of money getting their paramedic certification and fire academy training. Those people wouldn't do that if there wasn't an expectation of a large return on investment. Would they?


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 5, 2019 at 9:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

MV - the pay structure for MPFPD firefighters is essentially the same as that of any other similar size fire agency in the Bay Area.

When you have virtually 100% retention and firefighters who love their job so much that they work past retirement age then of course the average salary goes up. I would much prefer to have such experienced firefighters responding to an emergency rather than a department populated by less experienced firefighters simply because as newer employees that are paid less.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 6, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Most Peninsula fire agencies have a rather high retention rate since getting hired as a firefighter is pretty competetive.


Like this comment
Posted by Lies, damn lies... ya know how it goes
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 7, 2019 at 7:52 pm

"There are thousands of firefighters in California..." Raw numbers can be used to confuse.

But, for the firefighters only, what percentile are they at?

90th?

50th?

Last?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 7, 2019 at 7:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"But, for the firefighters only, what percentile are they at?"


Here is the data, feel free to do your own computations:

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by voted for the local at home
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 9:39 am

I voted for you, Peter.

You don't actually know the answer to that basic question? or are you embarrassed by the answer?


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I voted for you, Peter."

Thank you for both your vote and your good judgement.

But that was 5 years ago and I am now once again a private citizen - who has no responsibility to do other people's homework for them.

I would guess that the MPFPD firefighters are paid at the 85-90th percentile of all firefighters in the State and at 75-80th percentile of Bay area firefighters.


2 people like this
Posted by voted for the local at home
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:17 pm

You've been out of office for 5 years?

Still, I'm quite surprised that isn't info you knew exactly back then, and from your other posts, you don't seem to claim foggy memory often.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please pay attention- I was elected to my third term on the Fire Board five years ago. After completing that term I retired from the Fire Board in Dec 2018.

And my memory is not in the least foggy.


2 people like this
Posted by voted for the local at home
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:41 pm

Well, quite strident in clearing that up, aren't you?

So in all that time, 3 terms, with responsibility for budget, etc.., it never occurred to you to do a correct comparison? or have you forgotten the result? (golly, it's been a month)

It seems odd for an "I would guess" on something used as a tool for setting appropriate packages.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Salary comparisons were always done but never in terms of the requested percentile calculation.


4 people like this
Posted by voted for the local at home
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Doing a cursory study (apparently more than you did for such an typical benchmark) appears to show Menlo above the 90th percentile.

Of course, many variables - use base, use OT, use total packages, etc.. But c'mon, when numbers like this start popping up ($199K) it appears well into the 90th no matter how it's sliced.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Please pay attention - salary decisions were always made with information regarding compensation in other agencies. Each pay category was compared to the same category at other agencies. Percentiles were not used but rather direct dollar comparisons.

These decisions were made carefully and thoughtfully will full public transparency:

"5.14 Sunshine Policy
It is Board Policy to be open and transparent in accordance with the law. Accordingly, any collectively bargained labor agreement between the District and a recognized employee association shall be made publicly available for thirty (30) days before the meeting at which the agreement will be acted on by the Board of Directors. "





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