Some Fire Apparatus in Marin are dangerously understaffed, with a few agencies choosing to forego the additional cost of staffing their departments to meet the minimum standards outlined by the National Fire Protection Association - at a great cost in safety to the community and firefighters.
Several of the agencies have refused to sign contract language that would guarantee that you have a minimum of three (3) full-time, paid, career ‘All-Risk’ Firefighters on every fire engine and on duty 24/7/365. These engines should have at least one fully trained and licensed Paramedic to ensure the best possible level of care for those who need it, these are known as Advanced Life Support (ALS) Engines and they can make a difference when seconds count.
While several Marin fire engines have only two (2) paid, professional firefighters per rig, the NFPA recommends a minimum of four (4). Studies show that four firefighters are required to perform the most basic firefighting tasks. A minimum of four properly trained and equipped firefighters on scene is required by OSHA before interior structure firefighting can occur. This means you need two apparatus to arrive at your home before your firefighters can even begin the dangerous process of attacking the fire. The second apparatus can be responding from a significant distance away which further delays the interior fire attack.
The truth is that the Fire Agencies in Marin enforce NFPA Standards on the residents, the businesses, and the community to help ensure fire safety, but they have chosen to ‘look the other way’ when it comes to complying with this guideline.
The quicker we can get on the scene, the more likely it is we will be able to save a life after a heart attack or stop a house fire from spreading to other rooms or other homes. Fast response is especially critical in the event of a wildfire, as rapid attack keeps fires small and makes evacuation move more quickly.
Two on an engine means slower and less effective response and is a direct threat to lives and property. In a fire, it means a much greater chance of a fire spreading to adjacent structures, because of the potential delay in reinforcements.
The risk is even greater for medical response. The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of four people, including two paramedics, to run a cardiac emergency scene. Other studies confirm four on scene is the most expedient way to deliver EMS care.
Ross Valley and West Marin routinely run two-person paid, professional crews in communities that range from working class, urban, and rural to some of the most expensive residential properties in California and the United States. Other agencies in Marin still use part-time, non-career trainees in lieu of fully trained, professional firefighters.
Ross Valley and West Marin lay largely within the “wildland-urban interface,” where the greatest wildfire risk exists. In many cases, access to homes built on hillsides is challenging - a fully-staffed first-in crew can get to work right away. Time lost awaiting additional resources could be the difference between life and death in a medical or fire response. And if we face a catastrophic wildfire, fewer people responding slows down evacuation times when minutes count.
Much of the rest of Marin County's fire agencies put three (3) paid, professional firefighters on the apparatus, including Novato, Marinwood, San Rafael, Kentfield, Southern Marin and the Central Marin Fire Districts. During a major wildfire or disaster, any and all crews dispatched through statewide mutual aid must carry four (4) personnel.
In these most critical situations, the experts all agree - understaffing is unsafe.
Despite the life and property risk, leaders in many of these communities have chosen to prioritize other issues. For example, in recent years Marin passed a tax measure to address fire safety through vegetation management programs and prevention; although these items are important, communities must have adequate staffing in order for these preventive efforts to be successful.
Nearly every tax measure that the public is ever asked to vote for here in Marin somehow finds a vector to ‘Public Safety’ but the truth is these are very rarely ever earmarked to ensure better response and staffing; the funds simply go into the municipalities general funds and can be used anywhere at the discretion of the elected officials and administrators. Those hoping for the increased revenues know that by branding it as important to public safety that the voters are more likely to vote in favor.
If you live, work or have family and friends in one of these affected communities, send a letter or note via email to the city, district, and fire officials in your area. Call them. Inquire on social media. Show up at meetings of the elected officials and engage in debate. We need your voice.
Tell them to make your fire safety a top priority, and stand up for adequate fire engine staffing. Help us to protect your life, your property, and your future.