Sometime next month the Lathrop Road fire station will have full coverage 24/7.
That’s because two additional firefighters funded through the Measure M half cent public safety tax will have been hired by then.
For the past two years the station has operated with just a two-man rescue squad for 50 percent of the time. The addition of the two firefighters will allow a three-man engine to be staffed 24/7.
The creative staffing allowed the station to open while at the same time reducing response times for medical emergencies that outnumber fire calls in Manteca 16 to 1.
When the hiring is completed, that means the half cent sales tax will be paying for 15 firefighters and 15 police officers as voters were told ultimately would happen when they passed the measure in 2008.
Additional police and fire could be hired with Measure M tax receipts to supplement personnel paid through the general fund if the city’s sales tax continues to grow.
Manteca is also gearing up to hire six additional firefighters for two years using a $1.27 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management situation.
Councilwoman Debbie Moorhead noted information council members and city officials obtained when meeting face-to-face with FEMA administrators during the San Joaquin One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., that the city’s application was lacking some data they considered critical helped enhance Manteca’s chances of obtaining the grant.
Councilman Richard Silverman pointed out the grant will help build staffing needed to open a fifth fire station at Atherton Drive and Woodward Avenue. Fire Chief Kirk Waters said the station won’t be as expensive as the Lathrop Road station as it is more basic and won’t have architecture to blend seamlessly into the neighborhood as it’s the case with station for adjacent to Del Webb at Woodbridge.
“Now we can work toward finding funding to keep those positions beyond two years,” Silverman said.
Silverman was hopeful that sales and property taxes will continue to grow. That said he understood there is no guarantees.
Unlike other federal grants for emergency personnel such as the bailout money there is no strings attached saying the city must fund the six positions after two years.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin said when the firefighters are hired they will sign documents that indicate they have been advised funding for their positions will expire in two years.
McLaughlin said if funding is available and the council concurs, the positions would be extended beyond two years.
There is also the possibility that some or all of the six firefighters hired using the federal funds will be able to backfill general fund and Measure M positions as firefighters retire.
Chief Waters plans to use the additional manpower to base the 2-man rescue squad at either the Powers Avenue or Union Road station in order to serve the Woodward Park area. The rescue squad would also fill-in to cover the four existing fire protection districts that the existing stations serve when the engine is out on a call. The additional staffing will also take pressure off the city’s $1 million aerial fire truck.
Waters also noted the bump in staffing could potentially provide enough staffing to open the fifth fire station using the same combo strategy of partial coverage by a rescue squad that allowed the Lathrop Road station to open. The fifth station had a partial design already completed. It will go forward when money is available.
Average response times to homes south of Woodward Park that are currently being built are outside the five-minute threshold. The fifth fire station would slash such response times by at least half as well. There are already 1,000 homes in southeast Manteca outside the five-minute response time. It is the fastest growing section of the city.
Manteca Fire handled 5,993 emergency calls in 2014 compared 5,854 emergency calls in 2013. Last year’s calls were up 25 percent compared to 4,712 calls in 2010. There were 1,629 service calls last year as well as 535 calls for other emergencies.
Manteca had 217 fires out of 5,993 calls in 2014. It is significantly below the record year in 2004 when fire crews responded to 336 fires.
The eight additional personnel between the federal grant and Measure M will give Manteca 49 firefighters.