The following article was acquired from the Berkeleyside website and was written by Alex Gecan.

Berkeley Fire Department advised to cut response times, hire more medics

A city-hired consultant recommended that the Berkeley Fire Department bring on new ambulances and medical personnel to staff them and keep more firefighters on the clock in order to shorten response times and respond to major fires. Some of the gear and people are in place, but the department is still looking for a new ambulance headquarters.

Folsom-based Citygate Associates LLC delivered most of their recommendations in the spring and summer of 2023 and their final report on response times in December. According to Citygate, several of the department’s response times were slower than national best practices.

City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley outlined some recommendations and the city’s progress in a Jan. 24 memo to the City Council.

Citygate made several recommendations to improve response time:

  • Increase the number of ambulances from four to six
  • Move non-acute EMS calls out of the 911 system “to a mobile integrated health program”
  • Hire more dispatchers and upgrade the dispatch system
  • Work with public works staff and local safety advocates on street redesign
  • Increase staffing from three to four on key engine and ladder trucks
  • Add a second field operations battalion chief

The department has been funded for 10 non-firefighter medics but may seek to hire as many as 28, according to Citygate’s analysis. The city has bought two new ambulances, but staffing them is on hold until the department can find a new facility from which to deploy them, according to the recent memo and an earlier one from June. Hiring new medics has begun but is now on hold until the department can find a facility.

Fire Chief David Sprague said the department has been looking for a facility for years, since before voters approved a 2020 fire funding ballot measure that delivered $8.5 million in annual funding.

“It’s the combination of the type of facility we’d need, the space, and then the number of parking spaces,” Sprague said. “There’s just not a lot of that perfect mix in Berkeley.”

“The dispatch center is decades behind all other centers in the region and will require a substantial investment to increase and modernize the facility, add more staff, new technology, more training and equipment,” according to the June memo.

Another consultant, Pennsylvania-based Mission Critical Partners LLC, is expected to submit recommendations on triaging dispatch for less severe medical callouts in early 2024. The city hired them in November for $19,950, according to city records.

Citygate recommended adding new firefighters to engine and ladder trucks in order to have enough staffing on hand to fight serious fires, such as in a high rise or the hills. Some of those firefighters will be moving off ambulances in the next three years as new non-firefighter medics begin work, but the consultant recommended additional, as-yet-unfunded firefighters to be on duty each day.

Berkeley first hired Citygate to study the department’s response times in 2021 for $125,000, with an option to increase the contract to $200,000. The city has since hired them for a separate study on police department staffing for $120,000, again with an option to extend up to $200,000.