OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The Port of Oakland is the fourth largest port in the United States and it’s grown as a destination with restaurants, retail, and new housing.
It lacks a fire station.
Station 2 at Jack London Square closed in 2003 along with the city’s only fire boat; victims of budget cuts.
“I hope it doesn’t take a tragedy for us to do the right thing,” said Zac Unger, vice president of Local 55 Firefighters Union.
Unger and several other firefighters say Jack London Square needs its fire station back now more than ever. More people have moved into the area and train service doubled in the past 14 years. Station 2 houses administrative staff, who field an average of 1,600 service calls from Jack London Square District each year.
"That's 1600 heart attacks, car wrecks, fires, everything under the sun that would be taken care of by this fire engine,” said Unger.
Without the fire boat, Unger said Oakland exposes itself to devastating fires on tankers and ships or on the waterfront. He said it’s not exactly clear who Oakland calls for help first in a water emergency.
"If there's a big regional disaster like an earthquake, San Francisco's fire boat is going to be taking care of itself, Alameda's fire boat is going to take care of Alameda, and the Coast Guard is going to be taking care of everyone,” said Unger.
It was the deadly 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm that pushed Oakland to establish a portable water system after fire crews in some areas of the hills ran out of water.
"We developed a system where we had an on top of the ground hydrant system where we can lay line all the way from the bay to the hills to pump water up to the hills in the event of a big fire,” said Unger.
However, the pump for the system is the actual fire boat, which now doesn’t work.
Oakland City Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan is also pushing for the city to reopen Station 2.
"I agree very strongly with the firefighters and community members, who are asking for that to be reopened,” said Kaplan. “Jack London Square has had tremendous growth in recent years and we've also had more frequent trains."
Kaplan and Unger said anyone who frequents Jack London Square has likely been stuck waiting for an Amtrak or freight train to pass for several minutes. They worry an engine coming from Chinatown could get stuck behind a long train on the way to a victim or a fire. Additionally, Oakland is investigating several recent suspicious fires at housing construction sites and there are two construction projects currently going up near Jack London Square.
Firefighters Local 55 estimates it’ll cost Oakland $2.5 million dollars a year to staff four firefighters, who can operate the fire boat at Station 2.
"Oakland is the fourth biggest port on the west coast. We're the only one without a fire boat. This is the normal cost of business for a port city,” said Unger.
The money may actually be there now.
"The city council passed a development impact fee last year and with all the development going on in Jack London Square, it's completely appropriate that we should be adding to fire services,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan said city council is waiting on a report on how much money is coming in from the development impact fees that’s due in the Fall. City Council can then vote on where to allocate the funds.