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Fire calls up, response time down
Manteca emergencies & fires rise 26% since 2010
A fire gutted this Manteca garage. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Fire 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.

At the same time the percentage of calls that had help on the scene within the five-minute targeted response time went from 82 percent in 2010 to 69 percent last year. The national standard is to try and get fire units on the scene of an emergency or fire within five minutes 90 percent of the time.

The annual report issued this week by Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters underscored a continuing trend of more calls for service and longer response times. The arrival of a unit on scene within five minutes of a call is considered critical. That’s because irreversible brain damage starts within five minutes after a sudden heart attack. House fires also double in size every 60 seconds. After five minutes the contents of a room will spontaneously combust.

The opening of the fourth fire station on Lathrop Road west of Union Road in mid-September is expected to help reverse the downward trend in the percentage of emergencies reached within five minutes of a unit being dispatched.

The station opening will bring 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 three firefighters. Given that almost two thirds of all calls (3,648 of 5,937) 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, 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 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 won’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 injuries and property loss.

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.