I’m deep into discerning just what we are getting for the $500K we pay our fire chief and fire marshal. It’s made me a really bad blogger. As much as I wish it were otherwise, this will continue.
I’m committed to restoring faith in the AFD, uphill slog though it is. So far I’ve discovered this: We’re not getting our money’s worth in terms of planning and policies that fit the island we live on. We’ve got the kind of policies that work well for a sleepy little burg of say, 4,000 people, policies that are dangerously inadequate for the bustling city of 80,000 that we are.
The latest: I just picked up the policies and procedures for the Alameda Fire Department. I requested and the policies and procedures about 2 months ago, and it was quite a saga: first the city attorney delegated the matter to fire marshal, Michael Fisher, who delayed, then I made another request and Fisher said the documents were ready for me to pick up, then sent another email said the city attorney was reviewing them. Huh? Finally, last week Fisher told me I could come pick them up.
After all that, I assumed I’d be getting a thick stack of documents. Nope: 11 double-sided pages, most of it tortured logistics about which apparatus responds to what area of the island, and everybody’s call handle. The most absurd and tedious micromanagement I’ve yet seen in a policy, and I’ve seen plenty.
Of particular interest to me were the procedures for a 3 and 4 alarm fire and those for a hazardous materials response. I was interested the the 3 and 4-alarm fire response because firefighters from San Francisco have called the FISC fire a 3 or 4 alarm fire. If you watch the video of the fire, I think you’d have to agree. My interest in the hazardous materials (hazmat) response policy is because of the asbestos, lead and VOCs (fuel contaminants) in the FISC building.
The 3 and 4-alarm response policy
There isn’t one. That’s right: No such thing as a policy for a 3 or 4-alarm fire. This goes a long way toward explaining why the response to the FISC fire was so inadequate: The AFD was utterly unprepared for a fire and hazmat event of this severity.
Instead, there is the following: You’ve got your unit response (1 apparatus), your limited response (1 engine and 1 truck) and your full response (3 engines, 2 trucks 1 ambulance and the duty chief). You got your Second Alarm response for structures (1 engine and 1 ambulance) and for vegetation (2 engines and the duty chief). You got your special call response (request for 1 additional apparatus). But you got no policy for a 3 or 4-alarm fire. Which says something truly frightening to me:
The AFD has not done any thinking or planning about the kinds of fires that can – and did – erupt on the former Naval Air Station site. Talk about a failure of imagination, leading to a lack of planning, leading to the 19-hour toxic bath we received on March 29th. And Alameda Landing and Alameda Point are full of toxics – 5 superfund clean-up sites on the FISC property alone – just waiting to catch fire and bathe us again. And, when they do, the AFD won’t do any better. They don’t know how. The city and the fire department have not taken this threat seriously, have not planned, have not trained. They are unprepared, putting themselves and all of us at risk.
The hazmat response policy
There is one! There is a level 1 hazmat response, defined as “a release or potential release with no immediate threat to life or property, small contained quantities, 42 gallons or less (sic) of petroleum products.” For that, they send 1 engine. Well, OK. Except: 42 gallons of petroleum products does not represent an immediate threat to life or property? I think the AFD has been inhaling. You’ll also notice the same failure of imagination operating here: What about the burning of petroleum products? It’s as though this had never occurred to them. The burning of petroleum products – which are, you know designed to burn – hadn’t occurred to the fire department.
See, here’s what’s bothering me. I’ve read the Navy’s remediation report. In addition to being a fabulous cure for insomnia, it’s chock full of petroleum products. Really – the Naval Air Station is lousy with petroleum products, mostly fuel. (That’s your quickest route to becoming a superfund clean-up site, should you be interested: get yourself some fuel.) So, you’d think – I’d think – that the AFD would be very interested in imagining the possibility of all those petroleum products – all that fuel – burning. And, after the imagining, there would be a great deal of planning. There’s a name for this: Disaster planning. For an island, you’d think – OK, I’d think – this would be, uh, you know, really important. Especially an island with a huge, largely abandoned and neglected toxic waste zone with all that fuel, yearning to burn.
Fair is fair though: There is a policy for a level 2 hazmat incident. For that you get 3 engines, 1 truck, 1 ambulance and the duty chief. The incident commander decides whether to call the County Fire HazMat Response Team. Then, “At all incidents in which a hazardous materials emergency has been confirmed, the following agencies shall be notified.” Did you get that? When someone decides it’s an emergency, then someone calls all the agencies in. Just when we need someone to be in charge, when we most need the policy to point to a person, it uses the passive voice. It’s no one’s job to decide there is a hazmat emergency!
Of course, the incident commander is the one who requests the County HazMat team, and surely the policy gives s/he receives firm guidance about making that call. Here’s the exact wording: “A level 2 hazmat incident is all other concerns (sic) greater than a Level 1.” Clear as mud and twice as helpful.
NBC11 takes an interest
Last week, Kris Sanchez contacted Denise and I about running a story on the aftermath FISC fire. She interviewed each of us and a videographer shot some footage and it was a pleasure to experience such professionalism.
Not sure what’s happening with the story. Seems to be suffering from the same lack of focused public outrage as the FISC fire – and the threat of toxic fires to come. Baffling to me.
FISC Clean-up Contract
The city website has posted the contract for the FISC clean-up, which has already been reported in the Sun or the Journal, I can’t recall which. $1.6 million, the vast majority of that for the asbestos and lead contaminated debris and the rest for the many meetings required to monitor the clean-up. Which brings me to my favorite part of the NBC11 interview. Kris asked me about the discrepancy between the expensive, carefully controlled, 1.6 million dollar toxic clean-up on the FISC site and the advice we got about cleaning up the very same debris in our yards (it won’t hurt you: use a wet paper towel!). “Doesn’t that bother you?” she asked.
Yes, Kris, it really does.