Redwood City halts plan to brownout fire engine

in Community

Redwood City has halted a controversial proposal to brownout a fire engine to help resolve a budget deficit.

Last week, city staff released proposals to reduce expenditures by $7.7 million in all city departments for fiscal year 2020-21 due in large part to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The anticipation of continued impacts has prompted the city to selectively freeze hiring and to begin the process of reimagining city services.

An initial proposal to temporarily halt operation of Fire Engine 9, which operates out of Station 9 at 755 Marshall St., faced opposition in the community. Before Monday’s council meeting, when council was set to approve the revised budget, city staff suggested recalling the brownout proposal for the time being.

City Council subsequently voted in favor of a revised FY 2020-21 budget that keeps Engine 9 operating. The council also directed staff to develop alternative approaches to reducing fire department expenditures by early 2021, which will include discussions with the fire union.

City staff indicated that browning out Engine 9 would increase the fire department’s response time to emergency calls within District 9 by six seconds. The current response time citywide is 5 minutes, 36 seconds.

During public comment at Monday’s council meeting, Redwood City Firefighter Michael Elhihi doubted the city’s claim of a six-second increase in response time, saying the impact of losing Engine 9 would be far greater. Elhihi said the city’s downtown experienced 104 fires last year, an 89 percent increase over the last five years.

City staff chose to propose temporarily disabling a fire engine at Station 9 because the station also has a fire truck to handle calls, a majority of which are medical calls within the district.

Elhihi pointed out that fire engines are very different from fire trucks. While fire trucks carry ladders and other equipment, fire engines carry water, a pump to supply the water and other fire suppressant equipment.

“If there was no engine, citizens would have to watch their personal property be destroyed while they waited for a fire engine from another district,” Elhihi said. “Forget personal property, are we OK with gambling with the life of a citizen at a time when they need commitment and response more than ever?”

Photo credit: Redwood City Fire Department