Firefighters, volunteers fill 800 grocery bags for seniors

Grocery bags

Berkeley firefighters filled over 800 bags with holiday groceries for seniors on Saturday. Photo: Kaia Diringer

Berkeley Fire Station #2 on Berkeley Way was filled with an unusual sight on Saturday morning: a sea of grocery bags. Firefighters and dozens of volunteers filled the bags with chickens, fresh fruit and vegetables, and canned food, for delivery to Berkeley seniors.

The annual event is organized by Berkeley Firefighters Random Acts (BRFA), Berkeley Firefighters Association, the Berkeley Fire Department, San Francisco Fire Credit Union, Berkeley and West Berkeley Lions Clubs, and the City of Berkeley. Donations came from Grocery Outlet, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Monterey Market, Berkeley Bowl, Ashby Plumbing & Heating Supply and private citizens.

“So many seniors in our Berkeley community are in need this holiday season,” said Dori Tieu, interim president of BFRA. “There are a record number of people who have signed up to have holiday food baskets delivered. We are very happy and excited to be able to deliver food and provide some cheer in over 800 homes this year.”

Berkeleyside photography intern Kaia Diringer was on hand to record the event.

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Both adult and children volunteers joined the firefighters to fill the bags and organize delivery. Photo: Kaia Diringer

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Almost done: Over 800 bags were filled and delivered directly to seniors on Saturday. Photo: Kaia Diringer

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  • PragmaticProgressive

    Nice PR move, but Berkeley needs to reassess its need for the number of firehouses we maintain, the number of firefighters we employ, and the benefits we offer. Planet Money covered this issue recently:

    Fires don’t happen that much any more. We need ambulance service, but we don’t need to run ladder crews out for medical calls.

  • Tizzielish

    And they do, indeed, run ladder crews. I sorta collapsed on the sidewalk in front of the Y. A passing nurse called an ambulance. The ambulance arrived accompanied by a ladder truck. I was a distressed old lady (59) on the street.

    Why do they send a ladder truck with an ambulance?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Union protecting jobs. It’s a nationwide issue. See this story fom Boston, for instance:

  • Retired FF

    Because if your heart stops or you are critically ill, two guys on an ambulance can not provide advanced care. How many people do you think it takes in the hospital when you need advanced care? Same thing, but they have you get your body moved to the hospital. I’m not even going to start about how difficult it can be to move the obese.

  • Retired FF

    In case you want to be educated about what you are speaking about, the BFD has run almost 13,000 calls this year. Very often we run out of ambulances and engines, so ladder trucks are all that are left to respond.

  • originalone

    Consider the size of Berkeley, consider when fires do occur. Perhaps the city could close all but two, then some people would be happy? But listen to the crying, sniveling, whining if there’s a big fire, like what happened in the hills some years back. If only two firehouses were available, well, you can picture it. Firefighters are not just some guys who get 5 hours training to start, then sit around the rest of the time. People who don’t understand what the job of a fireman entails, shouldn’t sound off as if they are experts in the field. As for the benefits, well, just what price do you put on a human life? I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    And those calls can be handled more economically. We overpay for emergency services and for retirement perks.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Crying, sniveling, whining – wow, what a model of civic service to characterize the citizenry so derisively. Is that how BFD talks about Berkeley when sitting in the recliners in front of the big screens that we pay for? So much for heroism.

    And yes, two fire houses is probably too few; however, we do not need seven.

    Further, we get 1000 applicants for each opening. That’s a sign that we could reduce compensation and still get a sizable pool of qualified applicants.

    A 90% pension is obscene.

  • To the Berkeley Fire Department: Thank you for your service, and happy holidays.

  • iicisco

    This is interesting. You know nothing about about Fire Services, nor anything about Fire Tactics within the city of Berkeley. 7 Stations serve the city quite well. We could use an 8th Station in my opinion from time to time. We often run out of Medics! There are three strategically placed throughout the city. When they become depleted we call upon a Mutual Aid partner for assistance or Paramedic Plus, they outbid and took over for AMR if you recall. The downside is you’ve added an 8-10min eta for that Ambulance to arrive, sometimes even longer, say 20 minutes or even 45. There are several factors that go into that giant bill you received! Be thankful for what you have. Advanced Life Support aka Paramedics is fairly new to California. In the early 1980’s it was seen as a novel idea. Not all departments in CA have Paramedics riding on their Engine and Truck companies to date. There are 7 Engines(8 if you count ALCO), Two Trucks and Three ALS Medics that respond to emergencies through the CoB and provide Mutual Aid to surrounding cities. There already here, so why not get you the help you need faster! What you don’t know is the average response time in a given District is 3-5 minutes for an Engine/Truck company. You won’t always have a Ambulance to arrive there first or at the same time. If you were a Cardiac Arrest patient and you had to wait 8-12 minutes, you mostly likely would be deceased. This is common for the people of Detroit. Note the 3-5 minute eta applies if the responding company is within it’s district.

  • iicisco

    Please do enlighten us.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    base salary is higher. retirement pay is higher. paramedic differential is higher.

    I looked at three neighboring cities. Since there’s no requirement that you live in Berkeley, it’s not based on cost of living. Our city council is just really bad at negotiating.

    Here’s recent, national coverage on what’s going on in Contra Costa County.

    And from the comments on that article:

    A great life. Two twenty-four hour days on, five days off and done by 50 or 55. Check out the number of wineries run by active or retired firemen. It is not unusual for firefighters to earn $150 – $200k. If the values of benefits are factored in, California firefighters are in the top few per cent of all earners.

    Now please, do tell us how it’s all untrue.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “two guys on an ambulance can not provide advanced care.”

    So wouldn’t it make sense to send more people in the ambulance, rather than sending a second vehicle?

  • guest

    >Fires don’t happen that much anymore.
    What? Have we evolved beyond the point of accidental fires? Is this a new Aquarian Age thing I missed?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    modern building codes have reduced the number of fires, a lot. Most calls for service are medical and can be handled by paramedics.

  • iicisco

    Only two people can fit in the cab of a Freghtliner M2. This is the cab that the CoB uses on their Medics and Several other cities. I guess you could always have a 3rd guy riding in the body, but who’s really going to that. 2 is a sufficient number.

  • iicisco

    Fire Fighter Paramedics, are paid for what they may have to do, deal with, and what they put on the line when we run into burning buildings-their life! Wow I didn’t know you thought so poorly of the BFD. I thought every human life was precious but it sounds like you feel Fire Fighters shouldn’t be paid graciously for protecting the citizens of Berkeley. A lot of departments don’t require you to not live within the City limits, there is just a restriction on driving time to get to work, and/or for any Alarms exceeding Two where additional personnel may need to be called in to assist. I’m not very interested in what goes on in CCC, my primary concern is what’s happening in Alameda, County. Next the retirement age is lower for Fire Fighters because of all the gear worn to a fire, the hose lines carried, the toxic fumes and some inhaled. Lung Cancer is a big one. There are foam suppression systems on some apparatus that help lighten the load a bit, but still that can strain a FF’s back. This is in addition to the SCBA(Breathing device), helmet, any tools carrying etc. The average Fire Fighter when fully outfitted and ready to go is carrying 65+ lbs of gear. Fire Fighters are taken away from their families usually for 3-4 days all in 24 hour day shifts not two. I’m well aware of how much the average Fire Fighter makes and can make.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I don’t think poorly of the BFD and the preciousness of every human life doesn’t enter into it. Are you saying that BFD would save fewer lives if pensions were lowered to the level of, say, the Piedmont fire department? Because that’s exactly what it sounds like you’re saying.

    BFD should be paid fairly — not “graciously” (did you mean “generously”?) — for the work that they do. Ours are paid in excess of what the market requires and you can compare salaries and benefits to other Alameda County cities and see that for yourself.

    Given that the majority of calls are for non-fire medical emergencies, I’d like to see a separate paramedic outfit handling those. That could be public employees or it could be a private company as is increasingly the case in much of the country. We could decide to have them operate out of the firehouses in some areas if that would improve response time. We wouldn’t need as many firefighter paramedics in that case and the paramedics wouldn’t have to retire early from hauling around 65+ pounds of gear.

    We should also assess the staffing needs for actual firefighting. With the decline in the number of fires, we may not need as many people in as many places.

    Look, BFD got into the paramedic game because it was clear that fire fighting alone was a shrinking market, and that’s a good thing, right? That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t ways to get the same services for less money. And even if it DOES make sense for BFD to continue in the paramedic role, there’s no question that the wages and benefits are higher than they need to be.

    With all that said, I don’t think you have much to worry about. Our city council is about as effective at fiscal oversight as they are at foreign policy and you guys have a strong union.

  • Charles_Siegel

    So we don’t put three people in the ambulance because “who’s really going to that. 2 is a sufficient number.”

    But we do need the firetruck because “two guys on an ambulance can not provide advanced care.”

  • iicisco

    Well actually I should have said I am unsure would that would comply with NFPA requirements. Just because we added a third guy, who is going to grab the gurney or stair chair when the crew is already on scene assessing or treating the patient. What if every hand is needed at that moment? Who is going to break and run and go get that equipment from the rig eh? I’ll tell you one thing, is sure as hell takes more than 3 guys to get the job done right!

  • iicisco

    Pensions have nothing to do with life saving practices. How could you fairly compare Piedmont to Berkeley? Berkeley has 10x more land, and population to cover. It would be hard to compare the salaries and benefits to other Fire Departments within Alameda County because the majority are covered by the ACFD. Paramedics Plus then is utilized for transport and treating portion in many cities. Of course nowadays 70% of the 911 calls received are usually Medically related. In part because so many Americans don’t have proper Health Care coverage, and are not eating healthy. I don’t like the idea of having any 3rd party contracted agency operating anything out of a Fire Station in Berkeley and I know I’m not alone. A Fire Fighter Paramedic is cross-trained. Either way you will still have the same number of employees. There actually is not that many people in many places as you actually think. In my opinion you still are implying money and benefits over the cost of a human life. “We” should close down Fire Stations which also means less companies to respond, severance package or lay off some of the city’s Fire Suppression staff and then expect to get the same level of care we get now. In your dreams. Fire Fighters are already forced to do more with less. In fact I could see you as one of those people to propose to the City Council to purchase a Quint. A Quint is the combination of an Engine and a Truck Company. It reduces the number of individuals but is not an ideal solution. It is often frowned down upon in the Fire Community because you’re compromising Fire Fighter safety. Say when there IS a fire do you know how many crews it takes to put out a fire, preform search and rescues, vent the structure, protect neighboring exposures and search for the origin? I doubt you do.There are several issues that should be addressed in the city’s budget before we go targeting our First Reponders. You’re right about one thing, I don’t have to worry about the City Council!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    We clearly disagree about the outcomes that are possible from an alternate configuration. That’s cool — we’re unlikely to convince each other.

    But the compensation and pension for BFD are excessive and you haven’t refuted that because you can’t: the numbers are there for all to see. There’s no reason to pay you more to drive an ambulance in Berkeley than in neighboring cities. A city that can’t afford to repair dangerous streets shouldn’t be overpaying its workers.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Is your claim that you need four or more people on site for every single event? Given that most cities send two paramedics, that sounds like overkill.

    Yes, yes, every life is precious, but sometimes we have to make hard choices in allocating resources. After all, 32,000 people died in car crashes last year. The number would have been lower if we all drove at 5 mph, but those are tradeoffs we make collectively.

    I bet if we plotted a distribution of the number of paramedics actually needed (needed, not just made use of) at medical calls in Berkeley, we’d find that the mean was 2 or less. There’d be outliers where we needed “more than 3 guys to get the job done right,” but we’d probably conclude that sending 2 would get the job done right in enough cases.

  • iicisco

    I don’t expect you to understand until you’ve stepped into a Fire Fighters boots. Why don’t you leave the job of deciding how much we’re paid and the benefits we get to our Union and the City Manager instead! Meh.. Makes way more than the majority of us. Now that’s excessive!

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Because your union is obviously (and appropriately) trying to strike the best deal for you, regardless of whether it’s the right deal for the city. The City Manager and her predecessor have contributed to the problem, which is why he walked away with a ridiculous package — something like 250K/year in retirement. That’d be a classic case of the fox guarding the henhouse and those folks are why we overpay for every city function. Can you guys seriously not pay for your own YMCA memberships? Of course you can!

    And your officers are outearning everybody else in the city, as reported right here:

    So, since I’m paying for all of this, I’m going to go right on pointing out that you are overpaid. I don’t expect you to understand until you’ve stepped into a taxpayer’s boots, watched pools get filled with mud, and driven over our crumbling streets.

  • iicisco

    I exempted the Chief positions because they deserve to be paid more, I know at one point

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I’m sure you saw the news about the chief retiring at 51 with 175k in pension, no bad back in sight. Truly obscene.