At its meeting on Oct. 16, the City Council approved deployment changes for City firefighters - a move that addresses both increased calls for ambulance service and falling revenues.
The changes add a fourth ambulance, keep all fire stations open and staffed 24 hours a day, result in no layoffs, and are expected to provide the same level of response time. The new deployment schedule will also reduce daytime staffing by one position and nighttime staffing by three positions, and the cost savings will help to partially offset lower reimbursements coming from Stanford University for fire services. This deployment model is expected to be implemented by January 2018 at a cost savings of $1.5 million annually.
Palo Alto has had a long-term agreement in place to provide fire and emergency medical services to the Stanford campus. In 2012, the fire station at the Stanford Linear Accelerator was closed (at Stanford's request). The City has been in negotiations with Stanford on a long-term successor contract and have agreed to interim agreements at 75 percent of the original contract terms, reflecting an approximately $2 million reduction in reimbursements for service.
The City has been in formal meet and confer sessions with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) since July 2016 due to the significant revenue reduction from the Stanford fire contract. On August 8, 2017, the City and IAFF reached a verbal understanding and conclusion on impacts related to deployment changes. While not agreeing to cut positions, the IAFF has acknowledged the completion of the meet and confer process.
Currently, 27 PAFD firefighters are deployed for the entire 24-hour period that includes three scheduled shifts. In evaluating alternative deployment schedules, the Fire Department reviewed historical calls for service. The new data-driven model deploys 26 firefighters, emergency management technicians and paramedics each day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., when two-thirds of the calls for service occur. It also ensures that all fire stations will remain open and staffed 24 hours per day. The new deployment schedule will result in no layoffs as PAFD currently has 17 vacancies.
"We not only had to find a way to save $1.5 million, but we needed a more efficient way to deploy our personnel in response to the shifts in when our services are needed the most," said Fire Chief Eric Nickel. "Our daytime population nearly doubles every day, and when we analyzed when our call volume is the highest, it made sense to shift personnel to be available during those times periods." Nickel stresses that the PAFD will still seek to meet adopted performance standards for emergency calls of responding in eight minutes or less, 90 percent of the time.
As the City's population has grown older – with seniors now making up 17 percent of the community – the type of calls and time of day they are received has shifted. Over the past decade, fire incidents have declined by about one-third while EMS activity has increased by 36 percent and ambulance transports by more than 50 percent. A recent analysis by the PAFD showed that Palo Alto residents ages 65 and over account for 17 percent of the population, but account for nearly 50 percent of the ambulance transports to hospitals.
While PAFD already uses cross-staffing as a way to increase service to the community, under this new deployment model it will be expanded. Cross-staffing uses one crew of three firefighters to staff multiple emergency apparatus. Fire engines will cross-staff ambulances, providing up to four ambulances for the most common type of community need – emergency medical aid calls.
To read more about the PAFD’s schedule changes, click here.