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Manteca Fire offers free lifejacket loans
life jacket
Search crews last summer are shown looking for the body of an individual that went into the Stanislaus River south of Manteca without a lifejacket. - photo by Bulletin file photo

When a Manteca resident was hosting a family reunion and needed 13 life jackets for the party, she knew where to go to get that many items while saving both time and money. 

She accomplished that by not running to Bass Pro Shops where she would have needed to dig deep into her pocketbook.

So, where did she go to achieve both ends? She made the quick and convenient errand to the Manteca Fire Department, specifically to Fire Station 32 at 1154 South Union Road where the free loan program was launched a few years ago.

Why is it being limited to this particular location? While the program is a joint effort of the city’s entire fire department, the life jackets are housed at the headquarters fire station where they are loaned out and later returned because of staffing shortage. The other stations do not have the administrative manpower that would enable them to have the jackets checked in and out, explained Amy Rubio, Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd’s administrative assistant.

They can be checked out during regular business hours Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. one week and then Monday to Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every other Friday. (Like City Hall, business hours are under this schedule due to budget constraints.)

The office is closed on weekends. However, residents can take advantage of the loan program even outside of these regular hours. That’s because there are firefighters on duty that are always there, since fire stations are manned 24/7.

“They — the firefighters who are here — will definitely help (people) out and help them try them on,” Rubio said.

No complicated paper work is required to check out the jackets.

“Just come in, show your ID and fill out a form,” said Rubio.

Among the residents who recently availed themselves of this convenient program was Manteca Council member Gary Singh.

“They can check out as many as they need,” she said, pointing out as an example the woman who needed more than a dozen.

Sizes are available from infant to adult size 4x. They are loaned out on a first-come, first-served basis. The program is conducted based on honor system. While an ID is checked, the information is not retained by the fire department. They only ask for a phone number.

Many of the borrowers come in on weekends, and return the jackets on Monday, Rubio said, adding, “We’re not charging a fee, and we’re not sticklers on when you return them.”

So far, honesty has prevailed. Since the program was officially launched, they’ve had only one unreturned life jacket.

The current inventory stands at 50. The initial purchase made in 2015 was less than half of that, purchased with funds provided jointly by the city fire department and the Manteca Fire Chief’s Foundation to the tune of $500. The purchase was made at the Manteca Bass Pro Shops which gave them a discount.

Two years ago, the Manteca Rotary made a donation to help buy more adult sizes to add to their inventory. 

“I’m afraid we don’t have any more adult sizes to loan out,” Rubio said two days ago.

As the loan program gains popularity, the need to have more of the life-saving devices goes up, she said. And as demand grows, “we’ll just continue to up the number.”

Demand is actually year-round, which is good news to avid anglers because that particular hobby is an all-season recreational activity.

“Anytime (people) are around waterways, we want them to use their life jackets,” Rubio explained, citing as an example some residents who recently took advantage of the jackets for their weekend fishing expedition.

The program is “super convenient in those situations because some people don’t keep (the jackets) on hand.”

For others, “it might be a hardship to make that kind of purchase,” she noted.

Speaking about the fishing party, Rubio said, “We wanted to make sure they were safe when they went out fishing,” River currents can be quick and fast, so being able to lend these jackets to help keep them safe “is good to know.”

As to the lone unreturned life jacket, Rubio said, “one life jacket is very little loss to us compared to the life that’s saved.”