It was an unexpected call for service.
Ten months ago Kirk Waters was a Manteca Fire Department captain when Chris Haas resigned after less than a year as fire chief.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton picked Waters to run the department on an interim basis just as the city was in the midst of coming to grips with a $14 billion deficit that ultimately will reshape the way municipal services are delivered.
Waters – working closely with what he has called “the best group of firefighters he has had the honor ever to work with” – set about putting in place budget cuts in such a manner that there would be a minimal impact on the level and quality of service. The department is also shepherding several plans to recover costs such as charging for plan checks and other inspections on construction projects. It is a charge that is in place in most cities and fire districts.
Waters, 47, last week was named as the permanent fire chief by Pinkerton.
A public swearing-in and badge ceremony for Waters takes place on Monday, Nov. 2, at 4 p.m. at the City Council chambers, 1001 W. Center St.
The firefighters association – working with Waters – stepped up and released the city from a negotiated mandatory staffing requirement in their contract of three firefighters per engine company that was forcing in excess of $400,000 a year in overtime. They also came up with a departmental reorganization that saved additional money.
And they also agreed to a system where the impact on coverage – and ultimately the ability to save property and lives – is kept at a minimum when manpower drops.
It revolves around the aerial platform truck as well as engine company housed at the Union Road station.
There are typically 13 firefighters on a shift – three on four different engine companies and one manning the rescue squad.
If vacations or illness causes one firefighter to be off on a shift, the rescue squad is left unmanned. If the specialized equipment onboard that is expensive to replicate on each engine is needed, a firefighter will retrieve it and roll it to the scene. If staffing on a shift drops down to 11 or 10 firefighters, the rescue squad is manned and the remaining firefighters dispersed to other engine companies.
The engine company at the Union Road station is “browned out’ for a 24-hour period. The decision to go with the aerial platform truck was based on the fact that unlike some aerial trucks it is designed also to serve as a fire engine. It gives the department the ability to quickly start roof ventilation that is often critical to stopping fires.
“It is real labor intensive to put on a 30-foot ladder and carry equipment up it (on a two-story house fire),” Waters said. “It takes three men to do that.”
The aerial platform, by contrast, can go over parked vehicles and quickly reach roof tops to not only get equipment, manpower and water in place quicker but to also get a clear look to assess the situation from above.
The fire chief said use of the aerial platform truck for all calls will be carefully monitored to avoid excess wear and tear on the $1 million apparatus. If needed, the policy could be modified to have crews opt between which piece of equipment to roll from the Union Road station.
Even so, if an engine rolls to a medical call it could be dispatched after it is there to a fire call that is best dealt with using the aerial platform truck.
Waters, 47, is originally from San Mateo where he attended high school before moving to Montero near Half Moon Bay. His senior year of high school was at Oakdale. Waters ran and competed in the high jump as a high school track athlete. He also was a forward in basketball.
He was working as a respiratory therapist when he decided on a fire service career. It appealed to him due to the chance for advancement. The idea was brought up by his father who worked as a firefighter and eventually retired as a captain.
“Growing up I had no interest in being a firefighter,” Waters said.
He took fire science courses at Modesto Junior College and Delta College and earned an associate at the University of Phoenix where he also earned a degree in business administration.
His first job 22 years ago was being hired as a Manteca firefighter.
“I got lucky,” he said.
Waters recalls his first day on the job. He was riding in the backward facing seats in the cab when he noticed a large number of children waving at the firemen as they passed.
“I never realized how excited kids got seeing fire trucks and firefighters,” Waters aid.
Waters said the department is able to navigate “these difficult times” thanks to what he calls the most cohesive group of firefighters that he has ever worked with.
He credits the team approach at City Hall with helping him with the learning curve of his new job as well as to tackle tough issues.
“They (the other department heads) are extremely supportive,” Waters aid. “They’ve helped me a great deal.”
Waters also credits City Manager Steve Pinkerton with keeping people focused on the need to deliver services under changing economic conditions and to try and look at different ways to get the job done more efficiently and as cost effectively given the city’s revenue shortfall.
One of the innovations expected to be seen on Waters’ watch is the institution of on-engine computer systems that will tell firefighters responding to specific address information ranging from toxic chemicals to potentially floor layouts of commercial and industrial buildings.
The system will also have an automated vehicle location system that allows dispatch to send the closest engine to a call regardless of where it is located taking into account speed limits, turns, and other factors.
The system is designed to save crucial seconds.
Waters noted the constant training makes it possible for firefighters to automatically do what is needed when they arrive on scene to save precious time.
“Everyone knows exactly what is expected of them,” waters said. “It’s automatic.”
Waters relaxes through daily exercise – in the morning before work and again during his lunch hour.
Waters serves on the boards of the Boys & Girls Club of Manteca/Lathrop, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Raymus HOPE Family Shelter. He also has coached youth basketball for the Manteca Parks and Recreation as well as at elementary schools for years.
Waters is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program. He has a Master’s degree in Business Administration. He has been married to his wife, Shelly, for 16 years. They have six children.