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Automatic aid assures engine from city would roll if needed
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City of Manteca and Lathrop-Manteca firefighters along with fire personnel from other nearby districts trained together this spring at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A million dollars in compensation concessions made by the Manteca Firefighters Association has brightened the worst-case scenario somewhat for rural residents south of Manteca.

The Lathrop-Manteca Fire District could “brown out” for 24-hour shifts or shutter a fire station after July 21 if a parcel tax election fails.  The rural district that also covers Lathrop is now down to two-man engines after four firefighters were laid off on July 4. The district is going with two-man engines for now but has indicated that is far from ideal. If the parcel tax doesn’t pass, the district has indicated they would then move to increase manpower per engine by closing a station.

Manteca has been posed to take one of two fire engine companies housed at its South Union Road station north of the 120 Bypass out of front-line response on July 1. That is when six firefighter layoffs would have gone into effect.

Thanks to the compensation concessions, the city will keep both engines in front-line service.

Lathrop-Manteca leaders, although they haven’t said exactly what they will do, will more than likely not close either of their two stations in Lathrop since it is much more populated and has more calls. That would leave two rural stations - one east of Manteca and one south of Manteca.

The station to the south may have fewer calls for service but even so a big factor has to be the odds of an engine being available to cover the area.

Manteca having two engine companies at their station just over four miles in a straight travel path north of the rural Lathrop-Manteca fire station on South Union Road that could make that station a stronger candidate for closure.

The existing automatic first response agreement between the city and district means what has been going in for years will continue to happen although more of the call burden may shift - to a degree - to the city.

Automatic first response means the closest available engine regardless of its location in the city or district responds to an emergency in either jurisdiction. Mutual aid - which the districts also have an agreement for - dispatches additional engines automatically to structure fires.

“It’s been working out well,” Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters said of the automatic aid.

Manteca has had four 3-man engine companies since 2008 when the 100-foot aerial platform truck was put into service.

That engine has been out of service several times in the past year when staffing levels dropped below three-men per engine due to illness, injuries, or vacation. It takes nine firefighters to staff an engine company for 24/7 shifts.

Part of the agreement with the city reached by the Manteca Firefighters Association means that when three existing Manteca firefighters retire, their positions will be kept vacant.

Waters has said that could mean ultimately 50 percent of the time Manteca won’t have a fourth engine company in first-response position during a 24-hour shift. The remaining personnel would be dispersed to the rescue squad and/or other engine companies.

That would make response times to the south of Manteca by a city engine likely to be even longer especially if the remaining engine is tied up on a call. Right now, there are times when both city engines housed at the Union Road station are out on calls at the same time.

The southern part of the Lathrop-Manteca district reaches all the way to the Stanislaus River.

Waters said he talks on a routine basis with Lathrop-Manteca Fire Chief Gene Neely to make sure everything is being done to coordinate responses and provide the best possible service to people.

The city and district firefighters train jointly as well. And in the case of concerns about larger scale emergencies, they will also train with Ripon Consolidated and Tracy Fire Department as they did this spring at The Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley.