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Manteca bucking statewide trend
Police manpower growing by 7%; expanding fire protection
Mantecas fourth fire station will be built on Lathrop Road west of Union Road on land donated by Del Webb at Woodbridge developer Pulte Homes. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA

Manteca is pulling off a rare feat for California cities amid the Great Recession: It is hiring four more police officers and building a new fire station along with the staffing to man it 24/7.

And it is doing it while continuing down a road designed to eliminate structural deficits - or spending more money in a year for day-to-day municipal services than is collected in taxes and fees - by the end of 2015.

The City Council Thursday voted to tap the $8.1 million Public Safety Endowment fund set up by builders Pulte Homes and Atherton Homes who contributed $8,000 for every house they built. They will hire three new gang detectives and a supervising sergeant, provide a loan to build a fourth fire station, and pay to operate and man the station as well. The additional police manpower is an effort to roll back the growing tide of gang violence. When the four new hires are on board, the ranks of Manteca’s sworn peace officers will grow by more than 7 percent from 55 to 60 officers.

At the same time compensation concessions made by municipal employees - an average of 22 percent per worker - is making it possible for Manteca to avoid the path that led Stockton to file bankruptcy on Thursday.

Councilman John Harris said the decision couldn’t come at a more critical time as the state is in the process of releasing 36,000 prisoners early - many of them gang members - as a way to reduce the state deficit.

“The police department has been pushed to the edge,” said Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford who noted the department handles more than 1,000 calls a month with staffing at 1994 levels,

The mayor noted if after four years - the time limit the council set on using the endowment money to fund the gang unit before it receives further scrutiny - that the economy still hasn’t recovered enough to support he positions that he’d have no problem with spending the rest of the account balance expected to drop by then to $2.6 million.

“If that is what is required (to keep Manteca safe), so be it,” the mayor said.

The city is moving forward with the expansion of public safety under the mantra that municipal leaders have been repeating for the past four years - it will never be business as usual again.

Fire station can be staffed with no OT

To that extent, Fire Chief Kirk Waters has devised a plan that will allow the department to staff the fourth fire station without incurring overtime even though the plan adopted Thursday will allow the hiring of only one additional firefighter.

Whenever staffing drops below 12 firefighters on any given shift and they can’t put three men on each engine company, two men will be assigned to a rescue squad at one of the four stations. That wouldn’t necessarily mean a less effective response. Of the 5,443 calls Manteca Fire handled last year, 3,589 were medical emergencies while only 241 were actual fires.

“What a blessing it will be for our residents who live in the over 3,000 homes outside our five-minute response in the northwest (part of the city),” said Waters. “Last year we had well over 500 emergency calls that were outside of our five-minute response capability in this area which will all be met in the future by our new fourth fire station.”

Details about the 4th station

 Manteca’s fourth fire station will have a split personality when it comes to its architecture.

The proposed station on the north side of Lathrop Road west of Union Road is part of the 1,406-home Del Webb at Woodbridge neighborhood.

The design for the station incorporates single-family home elements on the sides that will face future homes and commercial -style elements for the sides facing future retail development. Construction materials will employ cement plaster and stone veneer for the exterior walls of the 7,173-square-foot structure. The elevations will also include aluminum windows and a tile roof.

The site will include a 140-foot radio communications tower on the eastern side of the station near future retail.

A 7-foot masonry fence will be located along the northern and southern sides of the property while a seven-foot decorative metal fence will go along the east side. That is so firefighters exiting the station can see pedestrians on a walking trail that will run along the east side of the site.

The station will accommodate one engine company and four firefighters.

It is on the corner of the future third - and southern - entrance to Del Webb at Woodbridge known as Madison Grove Drive. The fire engine will exit onto Lathrop Road. The fire engine will enter the station from the back via Knotty Pine Court.

The fire station site will not back up to any houses but instead will be separated by streets.

Steady building is taking place both at Del Webb at Woodbridge and the adjacent Union Ranch. Ultimately, 1,922 homes are being built on 500 acres.

Why 5-minute response is crucial

When built, the Lathrop Road station will bring thousands of homes in northwest Manteca under the targeted five-minute response time umbrella for emergency fire and medical services plus provide coverage for the Center Point business park going in east of the Union Pacific intermodal yard.

The five-minute response time is a mantra for those who make a living putting out fires and responding to heart attacks.

Having firefighters and equipment on the scene of a fire or medical emergency within five minutes is essential for two reasons:

•The chance of surviving a heart attack or major trauma starts dropping off rapidly after five minutes.

•”Flash over” when fires literally erupt occur within five minutes of the first visible flame.

It sounds like a lot of time, but it really isn’t. The first two and a half minutes are consumed by a call being placed, equipment dispatching and the engine actually rolling out of a fire station.

That leaves 180 seconds for firefighters to reach a structure fire or a major medical emergency.