LATHROP — Two of the four firefighters that the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District laid-off earlier this year because of tight fiscal times are now back to work.
But the budget scenario that forced Fire Chief Gene Neely to make the cuts is still at a critical level. It is a blend of reduced staffing at certain station houses and enhanced reserve participation serving as the crux of a plan to minimize a reduction in service to district residents.
According to Neely, a team of reserve firefighters has been receiving training at the district’s Union Road station to ready them to respond with an engine to calls in that vicinity – providing EMS coverage to a region that would otherwise have to be covered by a neighboring agency.
Two reserve battalion chiefs have also offered their services to free up Neely to tackle the business that the fire chief is normally charged with handling.
“What we’ve been able to do is get a station that’s staffed and have some battalion chiefs that can oversee things so that I can handle the administrative work that needs to get done,” Neely said. “Within 10 days we think we’ll be able to staff that station on Union Road full time with reserves that are EMTs just like our firefighters are, and being able to send them with an engine will be a huge help.”
Of the two remaining laid-off firefighters, one has taken a job in San Jose and the other remains waiting for a call to return to work. The positions were opened due to a pair of retirements within the ranks.
There might, however, be light at the end of the tunnel.
While the money to rehire firefighters still isn’t there, Neely says that the cut this year isn’t quite as steep as initially expected – falling from five percent to somewhere in the neighborhood of three percent. If that’s coupled with no cuts next year, he said, there could be the establishment of a platform to build off the revenue that does come in as long as things remain stable.
The worst, he said, could be behind them.
“What we’re anticipating is that we’ve kind of reached a plateau and there’s not much more in terms of a reassessment in commercial or residential values,” he said. “It’s hard to predict the economy or what can happen, but if things work out we could look at bringing on some more firefighters. Morale is low right now, which is to be expected because you’ll find that anywhere that you’ve got layoffs or people have taken a cut. It’s been tough, but all that we can do is keep looking forward and hope that things will get back where they were soon.”