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San Jose Fire Department s Pilot Program Sends STAR Cars Out On Non-Emergency Calls

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Don t be surprised if fewer firefighters come to extract keys for a locked car or to coax a cat out of a tree. The San Jose (Calif.) Fire Department is turning to smaller vehicles staffed by fewer firefighters for non-emergency calls as part of an effort to free more engines for high-priority calls.

In January, the department is set to expand the types of calls that its smaller sports-utility vehicles -- called a Supplemental Transport Ambulance Resource, or STAR cars -- respond to. The STAR car is a specially designed rescue ambulance that carries an assortment of fire-fighting tools as well as rescue equipment that San Jose has been using solely to transport patients with life-threatening conditions when paramedic ambulances were unable to respond within a reasonable amount of time.

San Jose Fire Chief Darryl Von Raesfeld said the department has decided to expand the use of the STAR cars after discovering they are being underutilized. The city added the cars to its fire contract with the expectation that the cars would be used at least once a day. The cars are being used only about twice a week, Von Raesfeld said.

Unlike bigger engines, which require four firefighters, the STAR cars need only two firefighters.

Von Raesfeld said the San Jose Fire Department has estimated that the STAR cars will be able to handle about one-fourth of all the calls coming into the station.

The department receives about 10,000 to 12,000 non-emergency calls each year, he said.

The idea of the STAR cars is to deploy our resources a little bit better and with more efficiency, Von Raesfeld said. If we can handle some of the smaller issues with the STAR cars, the big trucks can respond faster and better serve the community.

Currently, five firefighters must go out on every call. With the STAR cars, only two will have to go out.

The department already owns five STAR cars that it has been deploying alongside regular fire engines at stations 29, 18, 31 and 4, on Leigh Avenue, which serves the 95128 area.

The new program in January will allow the STAR cars to be deployed on their own. The program will be tested first at Station 2 on Alum Rock Avenue in East San Jose.

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