Oakland’s Fire Department is currently understaffed, which is forcing our firefighters and emergency medical technician’s to work mandatory overtime hours. That was the news at a public safety committee meeting in November. Firefighters and EMT’s are normally required to work 24- hour shifts. “Those 24 – hour shifts are now 96- hour shifts,” said Dan Robertson, president of Local Fire #55. There is real concern about them working under unsafe conditions due to fatigue and being over worked.
Fire Chief Teresa DeLoach Reed asked the committee to help hire new fire fighters. She said that a minimum of 137 fire fighters are required to cover one shift in one of the three zones that they cover. To cover all three zones, a minimum of 411 fire fighters are required. She said OFD has been short staffed for four years.
Over the last four fiscal years, overtime has increased exponentially throughout all ranks. Reed requested more academies to train new hires.
“What is going to happen if there is a major earthquake?” asked Council member Dan Kalb.
The committee requested a tentative outline on how to address this issue, including:
1. Long-term plan for how to go beyond the current stop-gap measures to reduce department vacancies;
2. Timeframe for implementation of the long-term plan;
3. Information regarding the impact of promotions on vacancies on lower ranks;
4. Information on the relationship between the increase in overtime and increases in disabilities and/or sick time;
5. Information to better understand attrition;
6. Historical, and pre-recession, analysis of staffing levels, vacancies and use of overtime for three years
With Oakland firefighters making approximately $9,000 a month, I’m sure there would be no shortage of applicants. The OFD website indicates the department is currently hiring for a Fire Communications Dispatcher, however I did not see a posting for firefighters or EMT’s. There is a link on “How to prepare for a career as a fire fighter”, and another link to the Merritt College Fire Sciences Program. Perhaps in the those links could be more streamlined to help future applicants.
This serious issue was to be continued at the next public safety meeting, and I for one hope that the city takes immediate action to help strengthen the Oakland Fire Department’s team. Fire Fighters are normally the first to respond to emergencies, and they are critical in keeping our city safe. Reed has made it clear the only long-term solution is to hire more firefighters. Additional hiring will provide many men and women with exciting employment and life-changing opportunities to help their community. I hope that we see strong action in 2016 on this issue.