Update: Response from Fremont Fire Department

Two weeks ago I posted my letter to the Fremont Fire Department, and much to their credit, they are responsive to my complaint. The next day, I did receive the following email response:

Dear Ms. Shen,

Thank you for contacting me to express your displeasure with your recent experiences involving our Department and the Empire Montessori Preschool. I was saddened to learn of your disappointment because our relationship with the community we serve is of paramount importance to us. Please be assured that we will look into this matter fully and immediately. To that end, I spoke to Deputy Chief Jim Martin who heads our Operations Division first thing this morning and tasked him with reviewing the matter. The Fremont Fire Department is committed to strong community partnerships and fire safety education and we take that role very serious. Please allow Chief Martin a few days to conduct his review and in the meantime, if you would like to speak with him directly please feel free to contact him at:

Deputy Chief Jim Martin
510-494-4202
jmartin@fremont.gov

Again, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us.

Sincerely,

Geoff LaTendresse, Fire Chief
Fremont Fire Department

A few days later, I did receive a call from Deputy Jim Martin who explained to me their policy. Deputy Martin did acknowledge that the new fire captain should have suited up and felt that there was a miscommunication when coordinating with the preschool director. However, he was quite firm about the fire department policy about not presenting to children under age 5 due to lack of resources.

Deputy Martin indicated that while the Fremont Fire Department would not do presentation for children under age of 5, parents can take their children individually to fire stations. When I asked if the fire fighter might suit up and show the kids his gear, Deputy Martin said he is not sure. I let him know that I am keen on teaching kids fire safety myself but the one thing that I cannot do as a parent is to suit up in fire gear and show kids not to be scared of that in a fire. To that Deputy Martin said that he might try to pass along the idea of an open house event in the future.

In response to our conversation, I sent the following final email to sum up our conversation:

Hello Deputy Chief Jim Martin,

Thank you for having taken the time and effort to have an in-depth conversation today over the phone. I appreciated your thoroughness in investigating the incident that I complained about in my previous letter, and I also greatly appreciated the good conversation we had. I learned a good deal about the realities that the Fremont Fire Department faces. It was enlightening and I am glad I had the opportunity to learn as a Fremont citizen.Thank you also for sharing with me about the Learn Not to Burn program — I looked it up and the website had some good information worthy of sharing!

While I understand that there is no education department within Fremont Fire Department, I would like to share a few statistics that I have learned about in children age 0-5 and fire safety:

According to FEMA studies released in 2011, children ages 0-5 have the highest fire death rates among children of all ages and have the highest relative risk of dying in a fire when compared to older children. Children account for 15% of all fire deaths; children younger than 5 made up 52% of fire deaths among those 16 and younger. Fire and burns were the third-leading cause of accidental deaths, after transportation accidents and drowning, for children younger than 15 in 2007.

“U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) encourages parents to teach children at an early age about the dangers of fireplay in an effort to prevent child injuries, fire deaths and firesetting behavior in the future.”
Children ages 0-14 and under make up 15% of all fire deaths.1
Fifty-four percent of all child fire deaths occur to those under age 5.1 These children are usually unable to escape from a fire independently.
http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/parents/curious.shtm

Researchers found that deaths among the youngest of children increased 2% from 2004 to 2007…
What’s most distressing, says Mark Shriver, chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disaster, is that “we’re trending upward. … It’s not getting better.”
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-02-14-kidsinfire14_ST_N.htm

Little kids can’t get out by themselves — they need to be rescued. This is why it is important for children to learn to trust and not be afraid of first responders at an early age. This is why I thought that having the children see the full fire suit would help them learn not to be afraid of a guy in a mask with an axe when they need to be rescued — that is something that I as a parent cannot do on my own.

http://www.wctv.tv/news/headlines/116195569.html

I am not sure what process the department goes through in consideration of the internal policies, but I hope that education can become a greater priority in the department’s interaction with the community public. At the very least, I hope that Fremont Fire Department can work on providing more information and education to the public creatively that will target those under age of 5. Fire Station Open Houses, information and lessons provided via the website, and education targeting parents and teachers of young children can all contribute. Mr. Martin has indicated that experience has taught the department that teaching kids under age 5 is not effective compared to teaching children 5 and older. It is true that children under age of 5 has shorter attention span and greater need of repetition, and if the Fire Department does not have the priority and the resources to provide the education directly, then parents and teachers need to be given the tools as much as possible. I noticed in the Events section there is a Personal Emergency Preparedness class in October — perhaps similar events for children can be made available?

I am looking forward to getting more information on the text of the internal policy on public relations activities as it applies to children and any available educational resources to disseminate to other parents of preschoolers that I know in Fremont. October, Fire Prevention Month, will be right around the corner!

Sincerely,

Irene Shen

Deputy Jim Martin sent the following response:

Irene,

It was good speaking to you yesterday as well. As the Chief mentioned, we are committed to strong community relationships and public education. I have included a couple of Fire Safety links that you can share that may be helpful for you to share with all ages. Input like yours is appreciated, and evaluation of our current internal guideline on Public Relations Activities (PRA’s) will surely be reviewed. We are always striving to look at and consider new ideas and improved methods, while remaining within our budgetary constraints. With that being said, I have already had a conversation with our Assistant Fire Marshall on the issues you raised. Additionally, the Fire Prevention Division has several very good educational Fire Safety videos that can be loaned to the public. Please let me know if you have an interest in obtaining any of these. The Asst. Fire Marshall had suggested the NFPA website below, and also wanted me to relay that we are already considering educational improvements to our website.

City Website:
http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=100

National Fire Protection Association:
http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/safety-tip-sheets

Here is an excerpt of guidelines we have in place for Fire Station Tours.

“In addition to showing the kids the different apparatus that we use, try to insert a few safety
tips as well. Put one child in the seat and buckle them in. Talk about seat belt safety and
emphasize that even firefighters always wear their seatbelts.

When showing them our turnout gear, use the helmet as a prop to discuss the subject of
bicycle helmets and how important they are. However, do not put the helmet on a child’s
head as their neck may not be strong enough to support the added weight of a helmet
without injury.

Put on your turnout gear, including the S.C.B.A. and mask. This is especially important with
younger children, as the clothing and sounds may frighten them. Explain that this is what
we’ll look and sound like if we ever come to rescue them in a fire, and that they shouldn’t
be scared.”

Our guidelines for PRA’s currently are used by the Administrative Assistant who handles the PRA’s, and does not live within a policy. It is used as a guideline so that PRA’s are handled with consistency, and are effectively communicated to the field personnel that then are assigned and responsible for the presentation. Some of the guidelines followed that I relayed in our conversation are:

1. No Children under Kindergarten Age
2. 2-3 weeks advance notice
3. No more than 30 children
4. No Cost
5. Receptionist may schedule up to 3 activities per month per shift and station

I hope that this information is helpful, and can ultimately be a benefit to the children and citizens here in Fremont. Thank you again for your input.

Sincerely,

Jim

Jim Martin
Deputy Fire Chief, Operations
Fremont Fire Department

In sum, I did learn a lot about the resources or lack thereof in my new city, and a whole lot about safety. I know that as a parent I took the availability of fire safety presentations for children by fire departments for granted, and that it is increasingly unavailable in many municipalities. As parents, we must take proactive steps to teach children what to do in an emergency, much as we take proactive steps to buy life insurance, write a living will, or even install a car seat.

While I am disappointed that Fremont Fire Department could not do more for our most at risk children, I am glad that they have at least taken the time to hear me out. Hopefully, other parents in Fremont might find this something worth voicing their opinions about as well.

My Correspondence with Fremont Police Department over Child Safety Education

On July 16th, I kicked off a series of emails with the Fremont Police Department’s Community Engagement when I attempted to help my preschool get the kids a few child safety presentations from Fremont Police Department and Fremont Fire Department. I was surprised by how difficult this exercise turned out to be. I have still yet to obtain any results yet but I will not be giving up yet. At the very least I hope to understand why it is not possible.

Here are the emails that went back and forth:

July 16, 2013:

Hello,

I was wondering if the Fremont Police Department might be able to find time and visit some preschoolers and do a small presentation? My son attends Empire Montessori Preschool and I am looking to arrange for a school visit — I know this would make so many kids there very happy! I know that the school director would love this for the kids.

Please contact me and let me know how we might arrange this.

Thank you,

Irene

——-

Hi Irene,

We only do school visits for elementary school age children.  We just don’t have the staffing resources to accommodate all of the preschools in town.

Sincerely,
Geneva

——

Hi Geneva,

I am not asking for you to visit all the preschools in Fremont. I am only requesting it on behalf of the preschool that my kids go to. I thought that it is important to teach children at a young age what policemen do and to respect them. It is a shame that there isn’t any room for even a 20 minute presentation?

Who may I speak with about this? Who can I write to to lobby for this?

Please advise.

Thank you,

Irene

——–

Irene,
 
I am the Public Affairs Manager for the Department and the community engagement programs are in my area of responsibility.  I understand that you are asking us to visit just your school, but as you can imagine a lot of people in town would like the same treatment.  We have to be fair in the services we provide and as an agency we only have the capacity to handle school presentations for early elementary age children.  While I agree 100% that it is very important to interact and educate children at a young age, our experience is that five years of age or kindergarten is when kids are more receptive to the presentation.   If we make an exception for one preschool, then we have to do the same for all.
 
We apologize and appreciate your understanding.
 
Sincerely,
Geneva Bosques
Public Affairs Manager/PIO
Fremont Police Department

——-

Irene,

I was just informed that while I can’t offer a presentation, we can send a volunteer with a patrol vehicle.  They would simply just park the car and let the kids look at and sit in the vehicle.  They would turn on the lights, siren and explain the equipment.

If this sounds like something that you’d like, let me know and we can get this set up.

Geneva 

After that exchange, I was pretty excited — something is better than nothing! I then got the preschool director in touch with the department, but then ball was dropped from there and the school director never got any confirmation of when they can get the volunteers to come out. So a month later, on August 15th, I sent this email:

Hi Geneva,

What does Fremont Police Department offer in terms of education for children younger than elementary school age? As an individual parent should I bring the kids to tour the police department to teach them about the police? Is there any videos that are provided? 

Previously we lived in Castro Valley, where the police seems to be a bit more available to preschool presentations. What are the resources available to me as a resident and a concerned parent who would like to teach my children about the helpers and first responders?

Irene

I then received an out of office autoreply from Geneva’s email account directing me to email other people. I emailed the others she recommended getting in touch with an received even more out of office auto replies.

But a day later, I did get a response:

August 16, 2013

Hi Irene,

The Department doesn’t really have any education programs for children with the exception of child safety talks for kindergarten and first graders.  In 2003 virtually all of our education programs, including DARE were cut when we lost more than 50 positions.

We do offer building tours to organized groups of children, preschool is usually still on the young side, but we would accommodate your request.  The tour is conducted by a volunteer and is more focused on the building itself and less about child safety.  Your children would likely be able to meet officers who are in the building during the tour.  

My secondary recommendation would be to attend an event where we have officers present.  We will have officers at this weekends Festival of India and the Niles Antique Faire later in the month.  

I can look next week when I return to the office to see if we have any videos on child safety.  If we do, you would be more than welcome to borrow them.

You are very lucky that Alameda County Sheriff’s Office still provides child education programs in the Castro Valley area.  Fremont unfortunately is one of the lowest staffed agencies in the nation and while we are beginning to add back positions it will be some time before we are able to provide the programs we had prior to 2003.  

Let me know if you’d like us to schedule a tour and I will check on the video.

Sincerely,

Geneva

To which I responded with this, and cc’d the police chief and city manager:

Dear Ms. Geneva Bosque,

It is well recognized by many experts that the first 5 years of life is most important and provide the base for the brain’s organizational development throughout life. Children need to learn who they can trust, well before the age of 5. Recently events in the news and the fact that there are many parents in this community who do not have other family members living in close proximity makes this an important lesson for young children, especially those younger than 5. It is important for young children to understand that in an emergency, when parents are not available, they can be comfortable with the role of the police officer as a community helper, and that he/she can be trusted to help them. 

I understand that you are just doing your job to enforce the policy (that you had nothing to do with creating) of no presentations for children under the age of 5, but telling me now that I am a resident and home owner citizen of Fremont that I was lucky to have been in Castro Valley makes me a bit sad, since I do live here now. Even before buying a house and moving to Fremont I have been studying up on the city; since our correspondence I have even read the city’s budget for 2012-2013 as posted on Fremont.gov. While I am aware that Fremont Police has lost 52 positions in 2003, my reading of more recent news leads me to believe that more officers have been added back since and budget has been increased for 2013 for more hiring. I do understand that with 185 current full time police officers, the officer to resident ratio of 0.85 is still below average, but community services such as child safety education does not necessarily need to be performed by full time police officers.

I was quite excited to have moved into a proper city (which is ranked the #2 safest city in the country) from an unincorporated area, and I am sad to discover that Fremont Police Department does not recognize that children under age of 5 as a valuable part of the community and the importance of acquainting young children with community helpers. Yes, young children have short attention spans, which means that short presentations with show and tell props like police car and police dogs can help make things interesting. I would be happy to bring my children in to the police station on my own but for preschools it tends to be more difficult to transport a large group of children to the police station. Plus, as you mentioned the focus is more on the building, which is not as important a lesson to teach the children as actual safety and interaction with officers. It is important that young children understand that in an emergency, police officer are community helpers that can be trusted to help them.

I know that few people have the interest to speak on behalf of preschool children, but I am quite serious and passionate about teaching about community helpers in early childhood. There are few things I consider more than the safety of my young children and I believe their ability to communicate with and trust a police officer can save their lives and the lives of others. It is better to teach the kids how not to be abducted than to have to look for them after they are lost; it is better to teach kids how to call 911 and get help than to deal with the aftermath of their helplessness. I hope that a city as innovative and resourceful as Fremont will be able to come up with some creative solutions for its youngest citizens to learn that a police officer is your friend. 

Sincerely,

Irene Shen

I don’t know what will happen from here. Perhaps we will be able to get a volunteer to finally come out, but I definitely want to understand the no presentation under age 5 policy. Hopefully I will have more updates to follow. It’s not easy to be an active and concerned citizen!

UPDATE:
As a testament to the power of social media, when I published this post, it autoposted to my Twitter and Google+ account and within the hour I received the following email in my inbox:

Hi Irene,

I spoke to Ms. Eva yesterday who I believe is the director at your Montessori school. She let me know that our volunteers came out yesterday for the vehicle show and tell presentation, but that there had been a communication mishap, so she asked if they could leave and come back another time. We are working to see if we can get two volunteers to return next Friday and will confirm that with her once we have made the arrangements on our end.

As for continuing the conversation about education and options such as building tours, videos, etc., please call me directly at 790-6957 to discuss this further.

Sincerely,
Geneva Bosques

Gym with Child Care in the East Bay

I never really liked gyms before I became a mother but once I became a mother, I needed to have a gym so I can workout. There are a few reasons for this. My body changed once I became a mother. I rarely had trouble with my weight before my children but after giving birth I had weight issues. I also lost a lot of freedom in terms of having the time and the leisure to just do things when I please, so routine became very important. While self-care is important, my children became the most important things in the world to me, and I had to find a way to make sure that they were well taken care of while I take care of me.

I started a fitness blog to keep myself accountable but I decided to post this review of East Bay gyms here on my personal blog. I had posted an article about gym child care in general but this is a bit more specific. Those who know me might wonder why I do not post this to Yelp. While I do enjoy posting reviews on Yelp, it felt to me to be less appropriate a place for this kind of a post because I didn’t become a member at all the gyms I have checked out and tried, though I did post a review for the place I did end up at and are quite happy with. Secondly Yelp has started to feel less like a good place for review with their filtered reviews. Although given my Yelp status it is not too likely that my reviews will get filtered out, I felt that my experience with the gyms is more personal so my personal blog would be the best place to post it.

So here is a run down of all the gyms I have checked out and my thoughts on their facility with  the point of view from a mother with young children, focused on child care facilities:

24 Hour Fitness

This is obviously the most popular of all gyms and they have different levels of gyms from”Active” to “Super Sport.” I actually checked out several different 24 Hour Fitness locations in the East Bay. Obviously the Super Sport tends to have more features like swimming pool, steam, and sauna, but the place in general is not kid-friendly because other than the child care room. Kids are not allowed anywhere else. Obviously kids should not be on the fitness floor, but I found the check in and check out process a bit painful since only one parent is allowed to be checking in or checking out their kids at one time. This can be a major issue when children are acclimating to the new environment. In one instance, I was called in after 5 minutes on the machine because my younger child was crying. My 3 year old was playing happily, so I left him alone, but I found myself stuck with nowhere to go. The only place for me to be was right outside the child care room. There was no cafe or lounge to hang out and be at. I could take my child for a walk in the parking lot, but that is obviously not desirable for safety reasons.  The childcare room itself was adequate and even equipped with with child-sized toilets and a changing table room, but the room is one big room with all ages lumped together. They do mind the staff to children ratio but the staff often are not tending to the children but talking amongst themselves. I had reasons to suspect that they don’t deal with kids too well since I was called in after merely 5 minutes away.

Bally’s

The information on Bally’s website is quite limited, so you actually have to call each club and go check it out for more information. There are not too many Bally’s located in East Bay, but the child care facility is somewhat limited compared to the others in terms of hours of availability. Much like Bay-O-Vista, child care is only offered 8am to 1pm, then 4:30pm to 9pm. Like ClubOne, you have to call and make a reservation. The child to staff ration is 12:1, so it is adequate. Bally’s doesn’t necessarily really have a pool facility in most of its locations in the East Bay, with the exception of the location in San Leandro.

Bay-O-Vista Swim and Tennis Club

Bay-O-Vista is the first gym with child care I had put joined as a new mother. I didn’t know anything back then, but we did join for the nice pool facility, which included a kids pool. My son loves to swim, so that was a major reason for us to join. My major gripe with the place has to do with the inadequate child care — bad staff to children ratio, general safety and cleanliness of the child care room, and lack of policy. Please read my Yelp review for more details.

ClubOne

ClubOne in Oakland City Center was recommended to me as one of the better places with child care. That may be true, but the club’s membership system is clearly designed for singles and couples. There is no family membership offered and the child care there is expensive, at $4 per hour per kid. On top of that, you have to make a reservation the day before you show up to workout at the gym. What is good is that they have excellent staff to children ratios, and “Playcare” offers the children activities, not just a place to hang while you work out. I have been told by acquaintances that their child care for young toddlers is excellent, but it was too far away from where I live to actually be useful especially with all the reservation requirements. We did not join, but it might work really well for someone who work and live close to Oakland.

ClubSport

There are several ClubSport out there, and most of them are affiliated with each other, but not all are. ClubSport San Ramon is independent of ClubSport in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek. ClubSport in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek are owned by Leisure Sports, Inc.

Each ClubSport is slightly different in layout in terms of the child care room. The facility is like a spa and geared toward moms, and  Kids World takes children ages 6 weeks and up. Some clubs’ kids activities are geared toward ages 7 or older, but some do have activities for younger kids as well. Generally the child care is more organized, and children are lead through productive activities as well as allowed free play.

ClubSport San Ramon

I joined ClubSport San Ramon as a member and my children and I have been very happy at this facility. As I have previously mentioned, this facility is independent of the other ClubSports in the area, so the membership isn’t good anywhere else. The cost of membership is a lot like the other ClubSport facilities, but I found the child care staff and facilities to be friendly to the younger children. In fact, they have many activities and classes for children ages 3 and up. There is a baby room, a bigger room for children ages 1 to 6, and another room for children ages 7 and older. There is an entrance for child care, which helps to cut the chaos and makes it safer when you are juggling multiple children. If you want to read more detailed review of ClubSport San Ramon, check out my Yelp post.

If you have any gyms that have great child care, please share it with me!

From WOHM to Unemployed SAHM

A year ago today on September 1st, 2010, I was laid off from my job as a Director of Product Development for ZipRealty. Though I consider myself lucky, the transition for me from being a working mother to a stay at home mother has not been an easy one. I always knew about the motherhood penalty, but to experience it since I went on maternity leave was quite something else.

I was laid off the same week I found out that I was pregnant. It was early, so this is not news that I had mentioned, but being my second pregnancy, I started to show pretty quick. To make matters worse I had not completely lost all the baby weight that I had gained from my previous pregnancy, so I definitely looked pregnant. I was getting a lot of interviews and constantly busy, but I was pretty stressed out. I had to give our nanny notice, only just after we were getting into a good place with childcare. After several pretty intense interviews where I went on second and third round, I was still getting nowhere even though I was interviewing once a day on average when phone interviews are counted. Job searching when you have a young child is very difficult — I had to scramble to find childcare and it was also expensive.  Going on interviews, especially ones that lasted all day, became very draining financially, and it was also draining on my positive energy when I encountered interviewers who are less than ethical, professional, or kind.

Almost a month later, my husband was also laid off from his job, which made me more stressed out. My health insurance now had an expiration, and given my condition, it would be pretty hard to get health insurance otherwise.  It was also difficult to juggle two job seeking schedules and make sure our son was looked after. We had to coordinate our phone and in-person interviews closely, and neither of us was able to say yes immediately to a particular time offered. My husband, being the great husband that he is, told me to slow down and not get so stressed out about looking for a job. He wanted me to have a more relaxed pregnancy and we needed to change up our job search strategy — I would slow down the pace of my job search while he full throttled his. We worked by placing his job search as the higher-priority goal. He was thus able to find a better job than he had before, just in time before the health benefits run out.

I was always organized but being a SAHM took that to a new level for me. Being a good mother required that I become more flexible and go with the flow. I learned to really separate the “urgent” from the important. When recruiters or potential employers don’t get back to me, I don’t dwell on it and ask myself why. Instead, I am glad that they did not waste my time from my children and my stash by dragging me through long interviews that forces me to go all day without food and pay out the nose.