Sacramento is caught in a budget squeeze. Every city department has been asked to cut cost. The fire department opted for brown outs. That means one fire engine, the truck that carries water, will not be staffed for a two-day period at one of the city’s 23 fire houses. But brown-outs can increase response time.
There’s a better way to cut cost – allow for more flexible staffing. Sacramento is one of the few fire departments in the region that staffs its fire trucks with four fire fighters. The city ought to try going with three person crews. Neighboring Sac Metro Fire uses three people. So does the state of California. The city has long sought to change fire fighter staffing rules, but the fire fighter’s union has always fought them.
The truth is – four fire fighters are not needed in most emergencies. After all, two- thirds of all fire calls are medical. Under current city staffing rules, six people – a fire truck with four fire fighters and an ambulance with two emergency medical technicians – respond to every medical call. That’s excessive, and dangerously wasteful. Sacramento can no longer afford it.
Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.