Seizing on the recent votes by citizens to increase local tax rates in the name of infrastructure and public safety, the Long Beach City Council voted last night to direct the city manager to explore the possibility of restoring some of its fire services in the coming months.
The item was brought to the council by Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who was lobbying to restore paramedic rescue services to Fire Station 12, located just north of Jordan High School. The new department has been open since 2013 but has never had a dedicated paramedic rescue unit. Instead, it relies on other rescues in the network to service North Long Beach.
Rescue 12 was at the top of the list compiled by the Long Beach Fire Department and presented to the public safety commission by LBFD Chief Mike Duree in February this year; it had been at the top of that report in past years. Richardson noted that due to cutbacks the city has made over the past decade, fire response times have faltered, with the department struggling to meet the national average for response times. That currently happens on 44 percent of calls.
“Restoring rescue 12 will help to reduce response times throughout the city by helping other rescues in their respective areas, rather than having to wait for units to become available from across town,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s proposal to fund the restoration of the rescue that serves his district was quickly met with a request from Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who requested that the engine at Fire Station 17, located near Stearns Park, should also be added to the ledger.
Using projected figures from Measure A—an estimated $48 million annually for the first six years of the sales tax increase—Supernaw said room existed in the budget for Engine 17 to be restored, along with Rescue 12. Mayor Robert Garcia pointed out a potential problem with this math, noting that Measure A funds were meant for investment in one-time infrastructure and public safety needs, not ongoing costs.
“Measure A is not a permanent tax,” Garcia said. “Any restoration that is not public infrastructure we have to figure out how to pay long term because what we’re not going to do, and what I will not support is making a bunch of restorations and then cutting all of those apparatus across the city.”
The fire department’s response times have dropped dramatically since the recession forced the city into massive staffing cutbacks. Since 2005, its average response times for emergency medical calls (+33 seconds), structure fires (+10 seconds), all fires (+54 seconds) and all emergency responses (+47 seconds) have increased. The percentage of times it’s met national standards in those categories have correspondingly dropped by an average of 21.4 percent.
Several community members came out to support the initiative to restore Rescue 12 and reducing response times in the Ninth District. Linda Wilson, a community advocate and longtime resident of the district recalled a night that her husband became unresponsive and she dialed 9-1-1 and waited for help to arrive.
“It took five minutes,” Wilson said. “That was an agonizing five minutes for paramedics to come and had we had [rescue] twelve, it would not have taken that long.”
Duree has long advocated for the restoration of any part of the city’s network of fire and paramedic apparatuses acknowledging that an addition in any portion of the city will relieve the stress currently placed on the department’s response capabilities.
In the wake of the passage of Measure A, the 10-year sunsetting sales tax increase approved by voters in June, Belmont Shore saw Engine 8 put back into service. The tax and its projected $35.6 million the city will receive from it this fiscal year also provided the department the ability to host two academies, helping to supplement losses to retirement and cutbacks.
If the city management office is able to find funds to allocate to the restoration of fire assets Duree has contended it would take no time to incorporate them back into the network.
“If I were provided the resources to restore any of our resources, I could turn them on tomorrow,” DuRee told the council during his annual budget presentation in August.