In a press conference that probably wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t running for mayor, county Supervisor Dave Cortese on Monday lambasted San Jose for cutting fire department staff to the point that paramedics can no longer respond to medical emergencies in time.
The Santa Clara County supervisor pointed to figures Metro reported more than a year ago: the city fails to meet a contractual agreement to respond to 90 percent of 9-1-1 calls within eight minutes and hasn’t met that goal since fall 2012. When San Jose Inside talked to then-Fire Chief William McDonald in January 2013, he wasn’t quite sure how many calls had met that standard in the previous year. By this time a year ago, it was a little more than 70 percent.
Missing the mark for this long means the city has breached its contract with the county. It’s not really worth it for the county to pay the city the $863,276 it owes from last year for a service that’s not exactly being rendered, Cortese noted. He called for the fire department to come up with a plan by next month detailing how it plans to meet the goals spelled out in its agreement with the county and find out if there’s enough staff and equipment to make it happen. In January, a SJFD report on emergency response performance to the Public Safety, Finance, and Strategic Support Committee was deferred to later this month.
If the fire department can’t respond to calls fast enough by summertime, Cortese says the county should charge a $152,050 fine, deducted from a future payment.
“When human lives are at stake, seconds do count, so the city’s failure to meet the standards that all other cities have met is unacceptable, period,” he said in a prepared statement. “The recent arson fires in San Jose reminded all of us that whether it be a fire or a medical emergency, we trust and rely on the police and fire department to have the staffing, equipment and systems to respond in time.”
This all comes in the same week that the fire department announced the appointment of two deputy fire chiefs, both men, apparently continuing the agency’s record of passing over women for promotion. A couple years ago, two female fire captains filed a lawsuit against McDonald alleging gender discrimination in reviewing applications for battalion chief positions. It’s been a longstanding issue, says Victor Garza of the La Raza Roundtable, one that he’s actively encouraged the department to fix.