Operations Review and Recommendations

On January 30, 1992, a committee to review Department fire operations in Oakland was convened by Chief Postel. The participants were: Deputy Chief of Operations Mike Farrell, assistant chief officers Gary Musante, Dennis Callahan and Jack Hickey, battalion chief officers Greg Abell, Frank Cercos, Alberto Da Cunha, Tom McGuire, Paul Tabacco and Jim Tracey. David Fowler, editor of this report, was also present.

Here were the conclusions of the committee:

  • ICS functions, for the most part, worked well at the communications center and at San Francisco command at the Claremont Hotel. Communications between units was also excellent because theDepartment operated entirely on its own radio system through the entire conflagration period.

  • The repeated channels as well as the simplex fireground frequency functioned properly, and there were no other problems with the exception of an initial shortage of portable radios and spare batteries. The Department's limited use of cellular telephone service within the conflagration zone was successful.

  • Communications with suppression units from other agencies was almost nonexistent except for face-to-face contact, as when a chief's aide was assigned to the Oakland command post to relay orders from that jurisdiction to Battalion Chief Tracey operating as Division G. Battalion Chief Roybal, the San Francisco staging officer, was assigned to Oakland Division C at the Claremont to relay between departments.

  • Chief's aides were invaluable for the interagency coordination function and command post operations because the fireline was several miles long. Gross overload of the mutual aid radio system made coordination with other jurisdictions impossible.

  • The state mutual aid radio plan must be examined, and alternatives to the current system should be suggested.

    Lesson learned

  • Chief's aides are invaluable in any large-scale disaster where other agencies are involved with the Department. Incidents include major hazardous materials incidents, BART or Muni incidents, earthquakes or greater alarms.

  • ICS procedures suffered somewhat because the Department doesn't sufficiently practice for large-scale disasters, especially if the Department is involved in interagency operations, particularly with BART.

  • There should also be multijursidictional drills to test ICS procedures.

  • The committee recommended equipment caches for large-scale incidents.

  • Department personnel did not have hose fitting problems because officers carried sufficient adapters.

  • Resource checklists are an absolute requirement for group commanders, as well as section, division and group leaders and chief's aides, who have the functional responsibility for logistics and supply.

  • A disaster plan checklist should be developed for ease of operations.

  • Maps of cities within OES Region II should be kept at the Communications Center for emergency use.

  • Training in the management of the communication system should be increased, even though the major technical and procedural changes made to the system after the earthquake were valuable. Communications functioned smoothly throughout the entire conflagration period. There were sufficient portable radios available to the Department, but there is no policy for removing them from station consoles and delivering them to the scene of an incident.

  • The Department should take advantage of emergency cellular telephone caches offered by such companies as GTE and Cellular One.

  • Management of the large-diameter hose application is technically an ICS function under the supply officer, and that position should have been staffed during the conflagration, as should the communications officer function for management of radio assets.

  • Span of control became unmanageable when relief crews were assigned from the San Francisco command post without officers. Officers and firefighters should be organized into companies, and then sent together for relief operations, with one company officer for every five firefighters.

  • The limited recall initiated by the Chief of the Department was successful in providing sufficient personnel without overwhelming the staff's ability to manage the recall, backfill and relief operations. This limited recall procedure should be formalized.

  • Use of volunteers: Citizen-volunteers were instrumental in laying more than one-half mile of five-inch hose from the 100 block of Alvarado Rd. to the firefront. In some cases, a line of citizen- volunteers passed 100-foot bundles of five-inch hose hand-to-hand along Eucalyptus Path and they also wrestled three- and five-inch leads up steep hills to the firefront. Still others courageously fought the conflagration alongside firefighters. Their efforts in suppression were invaluable.

  • The deployment of citizen-volunteers in this conflagration reaffirmed a lesson learned by the Department in the Marina District Fire. Organized groups of citizen-volunteers, when operating under the direction of experienced company officers, can make a significant contribution to fire suppression efforts under extreme conditions such as earthquakes and conflagrations. This must be a controlled resource. Uncontrolled citizen-volunteers may inhibit operations, and create an additional hazard.

  • There was little difficulty with street apparatus which responded to Oakland. The Bureau of Equipment was dispatched from San Francisco to repair minor problems to some engines on the fire line.

  • Standard turnout clothing proved too hot for conflagration conditions. Efforts should be made to provide proper wildland firefighting gear to urban departments which respond to such fires.

  • There is also a need for food and water that can be carried to the firefront during the initial mutual aid response.

  • Logistics

  • Fuel for apparatus: Some confusion over priorities for fueling apparatus on the fire lines. The person detailed to the fuel unit would be flagged down before he could get to the apparatus which had called for the fuel. This caused confusion and could lead to a potential shortage of fuel for other apparatus.

    1923 Underwriters' Report
    Table of Contents

  • San Francisco History Index