In a city struggling to meet emergency response times, there is a new fight over a pilot program designed to help San Jose firefighters get to emergencies faster.
For decades fire departments have responded to almost every emergency the same way: a big fire truck and a full crew, even if there is no fire. Now, a new pilot program in could change that.
The program gives the San Jose Fire Department five squad trucks based throughout the city, and they would only respond to medical emergencies. The idea is to see if the program saves time and resources, but the union says the city is trying to politicize the program.
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At the heart of the fight is whether or not the program is actually working.
San Jose City Councilman Sam Liccardo, who is running for mayor, said it is working. He said he would like to see more of the streamlined units.
“Ninety-four percent of the calls the fire department responds to are for medical response, not for fires,” Liccardo said. “But we’re still using 19th century deployment models.”
Liccardo and Councilman Pete Constant want the department to turn in the results of this pilot program. They want to see if sending two people to medical calls in a squad truck is faster, more efficient and more cost effective than dispatching four firefighters in a big fire truck to those calls.
“We want to know for sure this is working,” Liccardo said. “Certainly, what we’re hearing is, if it’s deployed well, common sense is, we can respond more nimbly if we have two people in that squad car.”
Liccardo said he believes the pilot program is being politicized.
The union president says the councilmen are rushing the results of the pilot program, one he is not too sure is working, given the department’s low staffing levels.
“We’re actually now putting into service these companies that have very limited capabilities, and so it’s having a detrimental effect in our system,” said Robert Sapien, president of the San Jose Firefighter's Union.
Sapien said squad crews don’t have the tools to preform rescue, nor do they have other life-saving tools like the trucks and engines with crews of four.
“The squad program can work, but in the circumstances we are in today, it really is a that luxury we can’t afford,” Sapien said.
Sapien said the real solution is hiring more firefighters.
Liccardo and Constant said they will bring the issue up at the next San Jose City Council meeting on Tuesday. Then they want to hold study sessions to see when and if the program will be implemented citywide.