County to Audit San Jose Fire's Response Times

Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors got the go-ahead from county attorneys to audit San Jose Fire Department’s management and response times and voted unanimously to do so; it comes after NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit exposed SJFD reporting inacc

After months of missing their contracted response-time benchmark, the San Jose Fire Department will be subject to an audit by Santa Clara County.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with an audit of SJFD’s response time calculations and management procedures.

It comes after NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit exposed that SJFD gave the county inaccurate response time data and that actual times were worse than reported.

According to its Emergency Medical Services contract with the county, San Jose Fire receives $2.1 million of funding annually for responding to 90 percent of medical calls in the city in less than eight minutes.

The county suspended San Jose Fire’s funding earlier this year for failing to meet the 90 percent benchmark and asked Rural Metro, an outside agency already contracted with the county to respond to unincorporated areas’ medical calls, to meet with SJFD to discuss potential assistance.

Tuesday, county attorneys granted the board permission to audit SJFD’s management and response times, stating In a memo from the County Department of Public Health, “the EMS Agency has cause and authority to audit the accuracy of First Responder data and reporting processes” County counsel, Orry Korb, cited section 302 of the county charter during the meeting, which he said gives the Board of Supervisors the power to audit any department or agency receiving county funding.

The Board took action on this approval, unanimously passing a motion to initiate an audit by a third party; supervisors said they hope to verify the numbers and calculations as well as analyze management procedures.

“You can’t fix the problem till you know what the problem is and until we get good data, we aren’t going to understand fully the extent of the problem,” District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian said in the meeting.

“I can safely say they are not meeting their response times,” County EMS Director Michael Petrie said. “There are no easy fixes,” but described his department’s interactions with SJFD thus far as “candid and positive.”

“Every other city in the county that participates in this program meets the requirements,” District 1 Supervisor Mike Wasserman said. “San Jose has not.”

The county has similar contracts with eight other cities.

Most recently, San Jose Fire Department’s response times in November and December were under 84 percent. The department has yet to provide the data for January to the county.

“There is no way they made 90 percent in January,” Petrie said. He explained he believes the delay in data is because the department is “trying to get it right”

SJFD spokesman, Captain Cleo Doss, told NBC Bay Area, SJFD's main focus is to get its methodolgy for calculating response times in line with the county contract in order to get accurate information; he said in the meantime, SJFD is looking at other methods and deployment models to improve times.

"We are very close to having those numbers accurate," Doss told the Investigative Unit.

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“I think only an auditor is going to be able to get to the bottom of it,” Supervisor Cortese said.

“I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we may never get to the bottom of this to know what the response times actually have been,” Simitian said.

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