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Station closure may hurt Berkeley’s fire service

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Thursday November 22, 2001

Community outcry and concern from neighboring cities about diminished fire service, has caused the Oakland City Council to rethink tearing down Fire Station No. 8 in north Oakland while a new station is built. 

On Dec. 6, the council will consider an alternate plan to delay demolition for three years and not reduce fire service. 

Because of the station’s proximity to south Berkeley, the Berkeley City Council asked city staff on Oct. 30 to investigate what Oakland’s fire service reduction would mean for emergency response. Berkeley has a Mutual Aid Agreement with Oakland, which requires each city to provide assistance to the other when emergency response resources are over taxed. 

“I’m really concerned how this closure will affect mutual aid,” Mayor Shirley Dean said. “Right now, with the rains, the fire risk is not so great, but next summer mutual aid will be critical.” 

According to an Oct. 30 report made by Dean, the closure of the Oakland station would remove two fire response vehicles from service. The removal means emergency equipment such as a 100-foot aerial ladder for high-rise rescue and a jaws of life would not be available for up to 18 months. 

The Berkeley Fire Department was not immediately able to say how many times a year the Oakland Fire Department responds to emergencies in Berkeley under the Mutual Aid Agreement. 

However, Fire Chief Reginald Garcia said that he did not anticipate any significant impact on Berkeley fire services while Station No. 8 is closed. 

The Oakland City Council approved $4.1 million to rebuild the station at 52nd Street and Telegraph Avenue last May. But, according to Vice Mayor Jane Brunner, the approval soon raised the concern of north Oakland residents who said the closure would reduce Oakland’s regular 141 fire-fighting force by eight. 

“That’s a reduction of 5 percent of the city’s fire service and it’s north Oakland that is bearing the entire brunt of that reduction,” Brunner said.  

In addition, Brunner said claims by the fire department that Piedmont and Emeryville had agreed to provide fire service to north Oakland during the estimated 10 to 18 months the station would be closed turned out to be inaccurate. Upon reading the fine print of a Nov. 15 report by Oakland’s Fire Chief Gerald Simon, it became clear that neither city had entered into an agreement with the Oakland Fire Department, she said.  

The lack of an agreement raised questions about the who would take up the slack for Fire Station No. 8, which responds to an average of 43 emergencies a month. Nearly 80 percent of those are for medical emergencies, which often require speedy response times especially for heart attack victims. 

Steve Splendorio, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 55 proposed an alternate plan during a Community Advisory Meeting on Nov. 3. Splendorio presented his plan again at a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday, attended by Mayor Jerry Brown and City Manager Robert Robb. 

Splendorio’s plan would delay rebuilding the station for three years during which time, the fire department could continue the current level of fire service. At the end of three years, Oakland will have hired enough new fire fighters to be deployed at stations near Fire Station No. 8 to cover the loss of those emergency service.  

North Oakland resident Ruth Finnerty said she would prefer delaying the new fire station. “I really want to see a new station but I would prefer if the people of north Oakland could at least maintain the current level of fire and emergency service while it’s being rebuilt,” she said.  

The Public Safety Committee, a sub-committee of the Oakland City Council, will consider the alternate plan on Nov. 27 and then two weeks later on Dec. 6, the City Council will decide whether to delay the demolition of Fire Station No. 8.