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Fire response times tumble in northwest

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POSTED May 2, 2014 1:53 a.m.

Response times to medical and fire calls in northwest Manteca that includes Del Webb and neighborhoods west of East Union High have dropped almost 50 percent since the city’s fourth fire station opened.

Prior to the station opening on Lathrop Road west of Union Road it took an average of six minutes for fire personnel to reach emergency calls in northwest Manteca once they were dispatched. Today there is a 3.5-minute response time.

The city targets five-minute response times. Trying to get fire units on the scene of an emergency or fire within five minutes 90 percent of the time is a national standard. Typically response in five minutes or less produces a better outcome whether a person has had a heart attack or if a structure has caught on fire.

The response time for the new station is included in the annual report for 2013 issued this week by Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters.

The reports noted the next priority is to build a fire station at Woodward Avenue and Atherton Drive. Average response times to homes south of Woodward Park are currently six minutes and 21 seconds. A station at Woodward and Atherton would slash such response times by at least half as well.

Manteca Fire handled 5,854 emergency calls in 2013 compared to 5,937 emergency calls in 2012. Last year’s calls were up 25 percent compared to 4,712 calls in 2010.

Manteca had 218 fires out of 5,584 calls in 2013. It is significantly below the record year in 2004 when fire crews responded to 336 fires. Losses were down to $1.9 million in 2013 compared to $2.27 million in 2012. It is also significantly below the record year for fire losses when $3.23 million in property losses were recorded due to fire.

Among cities in the region of roughly the same population Manteca has the lowest firefighters per capita. Manteca’s population in 2013 was 71,000. Manteca was served by 40 firefighters. Turlock with 70,000 residents had 45 firefighters, Lodi with 63,000 residents had 53 firefighters, and Folsom with 72,000 residents had 59 firefighters.

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Staffing and the fourth fire station

The opening of the Lathrop Road station brought 3,000 homes in northwest Manteca within the targeted five-minute response time. There were over 500 emergency calls in the area during 2011 that firefighters arrived at outside the five-minute target.

Funding restraints mean that 50 percent of the time the department will have a full-manned engine with three firefighters at the fourth station and 50 percent of the time they will have a two-man rescue squad until such time the city can afford a full three . Given that almost two thirds of all calls (3,648 of 5,937 in 2012) handled by firefighters are emergency medical calls that means most incidents in the area served by the new firehouse will have a unit on scene in less than five minutes.

The half cent public safety sales tax approved by voters allowed the city to staff a fourth engine company in advance of the building of the fourth station. Nine firefighters were hired to man the 100-foot aerial platform that was the second engine company added to the Union Road fire station. A drop in general fund revenues, though, forced the department to “brown out” the aerial platform whenever manpower dropped below the three-man minimum per engine per shift due to vacation or illness. When that happens, the department mans the two-man rescue squad if for some reason two firefighters are not able to work a particular shift, the other firefighter is placed on another engine company.

What the opening of the fourth station didn’t do because of staffing is to provide optimum effectiveness fighting a fire by having an adequate response force on scene for a structure blaze within 9 minutes. Manteca hit that mark 50 percent of the time in 2010 but only 17 percent in 2012. The national standard is to hit the nine minute mark 90 percent of the time.

The National Fire Protection Administration recommends at least 15 firefighters be on the scene of a moderate hazard house fire within nine minutes of dispatch. The benchmark allows for the assembling of the minimum number of firefighters to perform the critical tasks needed to provide for citizen and firefighter safety as well as reduction in injuries and property loss.

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