Firefighters’ union will seek to block Oakland plan for fewer fire engines

Oakland city leaders are fine-tuning a plan to have two to three fewer fire engines able to respond to emergencies each day.

The reason: Budget cuts due to COVID.

Firefighter union leaders say it's a dangerous idea.

"In the middle of a raging pandemic and wildfire season getting worse by the year, the idea of closing fire stations is absolutely ludicrous," says union president Zac Unger.

No fire station will be shuttered permanently. Under the city administrator's plan, each day, two or three of the department's 25 fire engines will be closed on a rotating basis.

The brownouts are expected to begin any day now and last through June.

Firefighters worry this could affect response times by several minutes in a profession where seconds count.

"A fire doubles in size every minute. If we can't get to a fire in five or six minutes that is the difference in being able to put something out when it is small, or losing an entire home or even an entire block," says Unger.

The city says the plan would save about $5 million as it grapples with a $62 million shortfall.

The savings would come in reduced overtime and vacation relief. The city is not laying off any firefighters.

The cuts do not require city council approval. But councilman Noel Gallo is opposed.

"The need is extremely great here in Oakland for public safety. And as an elected official public safety is a priority in any neighborhood for any family," he said.

The Oakland Fire Department said in a statement: "As we prepare to implement this temporary flexible deployment model, the fire department is confident we have the personnel and technology and data-driven decision-making model in place to maintain and adhere to the standardized response times for fire and medical incidents."

"We treat all COVID patients. I don't know of any fire department in the country that is reducing their capacity to respond in this time of the pandemic," said Unger.

The firefighters union says it is planning to go to court to seek a restraining order that would block the plan from going into place.