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Landscaping trimmed for motorists, fire engines

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Work is nearing completion of Manteca’s fourth fire station on Lathrop Road west of Union Road.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED August 14, 2013 1:07 a.m.

Various landscaping that hindered view of drivers turning left from Madison Garden Drive onto Lathrop Road was trimmed back or removed by Manteca Parks & Recreation crews on Tuesday.

That’s good news for Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters whose department is gearing up to open the city’s fourth fire station at that intersection on Sept. 11.

Waters had a crew take a fire engine to the station site on Tuesday and make left turns out of the station to make sure they had an unobstructed view of eastbound traffic on Lathrop Road.

“It isn’t a problem now,” Waters said. “Kudos need to go to the parks and recreation crew.”

Del Webb at Woodbridge residents have been concerned about the landscaping installed in the median west of the intersection as it can block the driver’s view of eastbound traffic while they are making a left turn. Concern increased after there were three accidents involving left turns from Madison Gove within a month’s time.

Waters noted that one suggested long-term solution offered by some residents — a traffic signal at the intersection — would not work as it would back up traffic in front of the station.

City officials said if down the road traffic gets too heavy to allow safe turns that there is a possibility of forcing traffic to make right turns only out of Madison Grove. That, however, isn’t likely to happen for years if that is pursued as a solution.

New station work is on schedule

The $3.5 million station will require hiring only one more firefighter due to a strategy to maximize resources and the effectiveness of fire responses under the city’s tight fiscal situation.

Normally, the opening of a new station would require hiring nine firefighters for 24/7 coverage with an average annual payroll and benefit cost exceeding $1 million. That would impact the general fund.

Waters devised a plan that will require only $165,000 more a year — $125,000 for staffing and $40,000 for utilities and upkeep — to open the Lathrop Road fire station. To avoid initially impacting the stressed general fund, the City Council will cover that tab by dipping into the $8 million public safety endowment account.

That account was created after the developers of Del Webb at Woodridge and Union Ranch agreed to a $7,000 per home public safety endowment fee for police and fire services. The fee has only been paid by the two subdivisions that also happen to be among those benefitting from the new fire station.

Fifty percent of the time the department will have a full-manned engine with three firefighters at the new station. Fifty percent of the time they will have a two-man rescue squad until such time the city can afford a full three

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, has forced the department to “brown out” the aerial platform whenever manpower drops 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. And if for some reason two firefighters are not able to work a particular shift, the other firefighter is placed on another engine company.

Aerial platform truck moving to Powers Ave. station

The 100-foot aerial platform fire truck will be housed at the Powers Avenue station once the fourth station is completed.

It is part of a strategy to further enhance the effectiveness of Manteca’s firefighting resources. There are less grass fires handled by the Powers station plus it is closer to downtown and still close to the freeways. It is also closer to large structures such as the distribution centers in Speckels Park.

The city has already made minor improvements to accommodate the aerial platform truck at the Powers Avenue station.

The platform truck is critical to fight fires at large distribution centers or in situations such as downtown where there is a high density of buildings. It also is effective in quickly getting crews to the roofs of two-story homes to ventilate them in a bid to reduce fire from spreading.

Since 2006, the department has cut back its annual budget by $2.8 million without layoffs of personnel or reducing the number of frontline firefighters. Before the Great Recession started, the department’s administration had a fire chief, four division chiefs, and five people staffing fire prevention. Today there is just the fire chief and a secretary.

Manteca had 306 fires out of 5,937 calls in 2012. It was the second highest on record eclipsed only by 336 calls in 2004. Even being the second worst year for fires numbers, the actual losses were low coming in at $2.27 million. Only two years were lower than that since 2007 with 2011 being the highest with losses of $3.23 million.

Emergency calls are up 26 percent in Manteca over the past three years.

Manteca Fire handled 5,937 emergency calls in 2012 compared to 4,712 in 2010.

Almost two thirds of all calls (3,648 of 5,937) handled by firefighters were emergency medical calls.

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