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Manteca Fire cuts spending by $1.6M
Latest move is to hire civilian fire marshal
Sabrina Rey pins the fire marshal badge on her husband Lantz Rey as Fire Chief Kirk Waters looks on during badge ceremonies on Friday. - photo by HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin
Manteca Fire has managed to slash $1.6 million in its annual operational expenses without layoffs, reduction in front-line manpower, or station closures.

It is a story that sharply contrasts with many other fire departments around California as local government continues to reel from drops in property taxes coupled with the sluggish economy.

“It is a team effort,” Manteca Fire Chief Kirk Waters said. “Our guys all came together. We are truly blessed.”

Manteca took a number of steps including salary concessions, furloughs, command reorganization, and firefighters allowing the city off the hook with minimal staffing of three firefighters per engine as negotiated in a binding labor contract.

The latest move to increase efficiency was Friday’s swearing in of Lantz Rey as Manteca’s first civilian fire marshal to replace the retiring Randy Sutton. The bottom line is a 35 percent savings in the compensation package derived primarily from reduced pension costs.

Lantz had worked in Manteca’s building division and already possessed strong skills sets with plan checks and such that are part of the fire marshal’s job. He also underwent extensive six month training with Sutton to pick up other aspects of the job that includes fire inspection, public education for fir prevention, as well as plan reviews.

“It is a very critical position,” Water said.

Roughly 25 percent of the fire services in California have civilian fire marshals.

Waters said Lantz was an ideal fit not just due to his masters degree and building related skills but also because he’s a quick learner who is driven. Waters also said he fits in well with Manteca’s firefighting team.

Manteca has its entire front-line full-time firefighting manpower still at full strength. The only position eliminated was a deputy fire chief.

Part of the credit for keeping manpower levels up goes to Measure M public safety tax receipts. The other goes to firefighters themselves.

The Manteca Firefighters Association did more than just allow the city to relax the contractual minimal shift staffing of three per engine company. Once they agreed to the consequences of what would happen if manpower dropped such as a fire engine being taken out of servcie for an entire 24-hour shift, they then stepped back up to the plate and vowed to work with the city to make sure than no more than one firefighter would be on vacation at any time.

As a result, Manteca hasn’t yet been forced to idle an engine on any given shift due to a manpower shortage.

The move is reducing department’s overtime costs that previously had been around $500,000.

There are 13 firefighters working on any given shift. When one firefighter calls in sick or is unable to work for other reasons, instead of calling in a replacement to work overtime the department parks the rescue squad. If the specialized equipment is needed when it is not manned, it will be retrieved from the station on Powers Avenue and sent to the scene. All fire engines have basic life saving equipment.

If a second firefighter is unavailable for work, then the engine housed at the Union Road fire station will go unmanned. That still leaves the aerial platform truck – a highly specialized engine that typically responds throughout the city – to cover the southern portion of Manteca.

The reorganization actually allowed the department to increase the number of front-line firefighters from 36 to 39 without putting a crimp in other duties including plan reviews and fire prevention duties.

Without Measure M – the half cent public safety sales tax – one fire engine that requires nine firefighters for 24/7 staffing would already be off line. If the sales tax was not in place, Manteca could be facing a dire situation that would force the foreclosure of one entire station.

Manteca with 13 firefighters working at any given time is close to optimum staffing of 15 firefighters to respond to structure fries quickly enough to make sure that they can be brought under control to minimize losses.

Reserves currently are called to structure fires to provide adequate manpower.