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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

City's Arson Task Force Is Understaffed and Overwhelmed

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 11:23 AM

click to enlarge MICHAEL KAPPEL/FLICKR
  • Michael Kappel/Flickr

The San Francisco Fire Department is “incredibly understaffed” and swamped with a four-year investigation backlog. KQED reports that the SFFD has failed to close more than 300 investigations, with the city’s arson task force particularly overwhelmed.

A spate of deadly fires earlier this year raised questions about the department’s competence. As KQED notes, the January blaze at 22nd and Mission erupted in a building that didn’t have sprinklers on its top two floors, had two exits blocked, and had inoperable smoke detectors. The fire killed one man and left 58 others homeless.

Michie Wong, the fire marshall, stepped down June 5 after criticism over how the SFFD handled both building inspections and fire investigations. Wong told KQED that the arson task force is “incredibly understaffed,” a sentiment echoed by Captain John Darmanin, who says his unit is “woefully short” of personnel.

There are currently seven full-time fire investigators, down from a pre-recession staff of 12.

Interim fire marshall Daniel DeCossio said that his department has begun an intensive review of the backlog. “Does 300 sound like an appropriate number? I would say no, we wouldn’t target 300 as typical open cases to have. We need to go case by case, open up each report, and review the status,” he told KQED.

The SFFD’s backlog parallels similar conditions in other city agencies. In October, the Medical Examiner’s office reported it had yet to clear nearly 1,000 cases (the city has since hired a new medical examiner.) And this month, the SFPD announced it has allocated money to test the nearly 400 rape kits the department has accumulated since 2003.

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Jeremy Lybarger


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