Amid an extraordinary budget deficit, the Oakland Fire Department managed to sidestep service cuts earlier this year, and work towards achievement of its objective of equitable service delivery.
The Oakland Fire Department was awarded a $27.4 million federal grant. According to NBC Bay Area, the grant will cover the salaries and benefits for 35 new firefighters over three years. This grant was the effort of former Fire Chief Reginald Freeman. With the grant, Oakland Fire hopes to avoid temporary station closures, commonly referred to as brownouts.
Prior to receiving the grant, Chief Freeman spoke to the Oakland City Council in May about potential cuts to service. When asked by councilmember Janani Ramachandran about brownouts in the Oakland Hills during fire season, Freeman stated, “the majority of our calls for service are in the flats.”
According to Freeman, Oakland Hills Fire Station No. 7, receives “maybe 400 calls for service a year.” Freeman said Fire Station No. 20 in Deep East Oakland responds to “roughly 4,000” calls each year.
“Our service delivery model is not just about putting out fires,” said Michael Hunt, chief of staff of Oakland Fire. “It’s also about responding to medical calls, overturned vehicles, shootings, whatever it may be.”
Hunt added that regardless of needs, every neighborhood of Oakland deserves quality service.
“Every area of this city has needs,” Hunt said. “While those needs are vastly different depending on zip codes, everybody is deserving of the highest quality of service and unfortunately, the reality is that the flatland communities have been underserved in so many different respects, in particular the health disparity issue.”
Oakland has reduced fire services to save money before. Oakland closed Jack London Square’s Fire Station #2 in 2003 due to budget cuts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. No. 2 reopened in 2020. In 2012, all fire stations, excluding the airport station, participated in brownout rotations. In 2021, Oakland implemented a rotating brownout of three fire engines for six days at a time. The action was the equivalent of closing three stations.
Community members voiced concern with the possibility of fire services being eliminated for residents again.
“I don’t think any fire department should be closed,” Candice Elder, founder and executive director of the East Oakland Collective said. “Firefighters are our first responders.