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‘Street Trauma Prevention’ Role Proposed for Berkeley Fire

A proposed new position at BFD would balance new bike lanes like this one on Gilman Street with keeping emergency response times fast. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Update, May 8: The City Council took early steps Tuesday on two projects that, if successful, could make Berkeley streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

The first would create a street safety czar within the Berkeley Fire Department. A second could lead to new safety improvements near the intersection of Heinz Street and Seventh Street, where two motorists hit three cyclists in two incidents 15 days apart earlier this year, as well as at other points around the city.

The original proposals the council voted on Tuesday — $265,000 for the street safety position, $200,000 for safety improvements — were budget referrals, meaning that while the council supported them, they will still have to come back for final consideration with the rest in June of the budget. the city’s proposed budget.

According to city data, Berkeley saw a 20% increase in injury collisions in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same months in 2023. Like most other cash allocations in the city, both items will still be subject to city ​​budget process.

Julia Moss, whose husband Adam, along with their 3-year-old son, was hit by a car while biking to the child’s school near Heinz and Seventh on February 13, spoke out in favor of both points on Tuesday. Adam Moss suffered two torn ligaments and their son was thrown out into the street.

“It was incredibly traumatic for both of them, but also for our family and community,” Moss said. Their son was not injured in the incident.

On Feb. 28, another motorist struck another cyclist near the same intersection, sending her to the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital, police said at the time.

“These collisions, and the lasting trauma they cause, can be prevented through safer street design,” Moss said.

The city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also supported creating street safety jobs. If ultimately approved, the new program manager would be responsible for a “street trauma prevention” program, combining physical safety features for cyclists and pedestrians with the need to keep response times low for firefighters and doctors.

“This program represents a groundbreaking expansion of the department’s mission to include prevention in addition to the traditional response function, and I can tell you it is unique in California’s fire service,” said Mike Wilson, member of the Berkeley Disaster and Fire Safety Commission, a former firefighter and paramedic. who now works as a senior safety engineer for the state Occupational Safety and Health Department.

“We had terrible tragedies earlier this year on streets that are well documented to be unsafe, and those are streets that firefighters have to respond to time and time again,” Theo Gordon, another fire and emergency commissioner, said Tuesday. “It’s a huge burden on our system.”

Original story, May 6: The City Council will consider a budget referral Tuesday for a position that, if successful, could bridge the divide between groups with different priorities for city streets.

The position would be a program manager working at the Berkeley Fire Department, who would be responsible for developing a “street trauma prevention” program – or, put another way, for reducing injuries and deaths on the city’s streets as the roads would be kept clear for medics. to reach crashes on time and save lives.

The referral comes amid an agenda packed with public safety topics – $4 million for four years of fire fuel management, a $7.7 million FEMA grant request to fund nine firefighters for three years, city fire updates, a a $70,000 pedestrian safety study for Euclid Avenue and a separate budget referral for safety improvements on bicycle boulevards and some other roads, to name a few.

The Disaster and Fire Safety Commission supports adding the position. Mike Wilson, one of the committee members, helped push the proposal through that body.

Wilson knows firsthand the importance of both quick response times and physical protection for non-motorists. In 2016, a drunk driver ran over his wife, Meg Schwarzman, while she was biking home from work, dragging her 60 feet under the car.

“Berkeley Fire arrived within two minutes from the time of the call,” Wilson said. “They lifted the car, started breathing for her… they stopped the bleeding from the liver and were able to revive her.”

Bicycle and pedestrian safety advocates often advocate creating protected lanes for non-motorists, which can eat into existing roads and narrow vehicle lanes. Fire safety advocates generally prefer to leave as much lateral space as possible so that large emergency vehicles can get where they need to go as quickly as possible.

Accidents involving injuries — to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians or anyone else — happen in Berkeley nearly twice a day, or an average of 694 times a year, according to the commission’s materials on the program.

“Collishes disproportionately impact people who cycle and people who walk,” according to a 2022 city report on Vision Zero goals. “The numbers are stark: collisions involving someone biking or walking account for nearly 61% of collisions that result in death or serious injury, despite accounting for only 40% of trips in Berkeley.”

Supporters of the position and the program say it would be better placed within the fire department rather than another agency like Public Works or the Transportation Department.

“First, the fire service is great at prevention when it comes to the safety of human life,” Wilson said. “Second, they understand firsthand what these incidents are about, so they are the first on the scene and care for sometimes seriously injured people.”

Fire Chief David Sprague told Berkeleyside that his department also fully supports it.

“I think it’s a great idea from the committee, I fully support it and I’m glad to see someone in the department focusing on this work,” Sprague said. “We haven’t had any staff available to work on it and I think we’ll be a much more effective partner at the table with someone in the department focused on these types of things.”

Ben Gerhardstein, a member of Walk Bike Berkeley, agreed.

“We want to make our streets safe, we want our people to be able to move,” Gerhardstein said. “We also want emergency responders to be able to move quickly, to ensure that seriously injured and medically vulnerable people can be cared for quickly, and that we can evacuate our city quickly. And those things sometimes collide.”

The council’s regular meeting begins at 6 p.m., in person in the BUSD boardroom and on video via Zoom and streaming on the city’s website.

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