Captain Nikki Griffey became a firefighter haphazardly. Bored with her old job, she explains, “I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.” Since being promoted to captain of Firehouse 21 about 16 months ago, the Richmond native says the best part of her job is spending 24-hour shifts with a crew she enjoys working with.
Yet, with a city budget in crisis and public services like the San Francisco Fire Department feeling its effects, Griffey and her crew’s future is an uncertain one.
This past summer, the Board of Supervisors approved to slash an additional $6 million from the Department. SFFD Public Informer Mindy Talmadge said that another budget cut may result in the closure of a fire company–and Firehouse 21 could be the first to go.
Temporary closures of fire companies, also known as “brown-outs,” were a reality for many stations in 2005 with Proposition F. Although Station 35 has been the only one to permanently shut down, Talmadge says this was due to the extreme costs required to earthquake retrofit the already rotting building on the pier.
The criteria for determining which stations could be closed, Talmadge explains, are determined by the SFFD‘s research department. Call volumes and response times from one station to the next are analyzed to determine which closure could have the least impact on a particular area. Mandatory response times for an emergency vehicle to reach the destination of any call must be under four and half minutes. Talmadge says Firehouse 21 meets this requirement before most other companies.
Captain Griffey and her crew, who respond to an average of five or six emergency calls each day, worry that there would a longer response time for the nursing home next door, in addition to the already high volume of calls in The Haight neighborhood and Golden Gate Park.
NoPa neighbors are not staying quiet on the matter. Life-time resident, Kip Fuller considers Fire Station 21 a staple to the community, adding that it would be devastating if they were forced to shut down. “They’re the first responders to life-threatening situations,” he commented, adding that they are good neighbors too. The crew frequently shops at the Divisadero Farmers’ Market, wave as they drive by and host field trips for local school children.
“We want all our companies up and running, and providing the same quality service in every neighborhood of The City,” Talmadge said. “We have used every creative bone in our body to prevent brown-outs and shut-downs, and we’ll continue to try.”
Kip Fuller is starting a Facebook group with the crew of Firehouse 21 to create more awareness about the issue. Griffey says it’s important for the neighbors who want to ensure the future of the firehouse to write a letter to Mayor Newsom and talk to District 5 Supervisor Mirkarimi to not make further cuts. The Mayor begins meeting formally with citizens in February each year to hear their concerns about the previous budget and how to improve funding for public services.
“If The City thinks the people don’t care,” Griffey said, “then it will be easier to get rid of us.”