Relations have improved between the San Mateo Coastside Medical Reserve Corps and the Coastside Fire Protection District, but that isn’t enough to keep the disaster-planning organization going, according to the corps’ volunteer leader. Dr. Michael Klass says the local corps will go dormant on Nov. 1 without an infusion of money.
Klass, a former Marine Corps surgeon and private-practice dermatologist, has served as the director of the local unit of the Medical Reserve Corps since 2008. Nationally, the Medical Reserve Corps grew out of Sept. 11 as a way to coordinate medical professionals who were willing to give their time and expertise in the event of disasters that went beyond the normal scope of first-responders like firemen and policemen.
Here on the coast, the corps boosts about 50 members, including physicians, dentists, nurses and mental health professionals. The local unit has helped run training for community emergency response teams, provided first-aid classes and worked with local agencies on a number of training initiatives. With the help of government grants, it has outfitted a mobile trailer with supplies capable of treating 750 people in the event of a disaster.
Earlier this year, Klass caused a stir within the Coastside Fire Protection District when he wrote a damning letter outlining the lack of cooperation his organization had gotten from CalFire employees working for the CFPD. In his letter, dated June 4, Klass says he is impressed by the ability of local CalFire employees to respond to trouble, but he was “very displeased with their commitment to public education, training, and cooperation with local organizations that are trying to help our community (and the fire department) in the event of a major disaster.”
Among other complaints, Klass detailed repeated instances when CalFire personnel working for the local district refused to let the organization use its meeting room for training sessions — even though the room was not being used at the time.
Klass’ letter was read at a meeting of the CFPD board of directors and was used by some on the board as evidence that CalFire was not adequately serving local residents.
In fact, the complaints were not new. In 2006, before the CalFire contract to manage fire services on the Coastside, then-Medical Reserve Corps Director Dr. Kent Garman told the Review he was frustrated with the now-defunct Half Moon Bay Fire Protection District because it never responded to his call for CERT training on the coast.
Klass says his letter worked wonders. Since then, CalFire Unit Chief John Ferreira and Assistant Fire Chief Paul Cole have met with corps volunteers. They have offered the meeting room in the future and now house the corps’ supply trailer. News of a wilderness first-aid class facilitated by the corps is listed on the CFPD website, and CalFire employees are helping with class registration.
“They are an entirely different organization,” Klass said. “Things have changed drastically.”
One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is compensation for the Medical Reserve Corps administration on the coast. Klass said that 80 percent of local corps units pay their directors. He notes that there was no pay for the top officials in the county’s other two units and that those units are now inactive as a result. He is seeking $30,000 to $40,000 a year to compensate him for his time and for the time of an assistant administrator who would handle membership, applications and other duties necessary to keep the organization running.
He said he told national Medical Reserve Corps leaders at a convention in Nashville that the Coastside chapter would become inactive as of Nov. 1, after manning the Half Moon Bay International Marathon and an immunization clinic for first responders, unless there was an infusion of cash.
There may be help on the way. Klass has set up a meeting for Thursday with San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley. He is also hoping there might be funding available from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which recently commissioned a study of disaster preparedness on the coast. Foundation officials have indicated they might have funding for appropriate initiatives to meet the unique challenges of disaster response on the relatively isolated coast.
Horsley said there may be federal Homeland Security grants available to cover the cost of corps’ time and suggested that the local fire board might also look at its own coffers.
“We think this is a valuable resource for the entire Coastside, and we don’t want to let it go away,” Horsley said.