You see it almost every day of the week — a Manteca fire engine in the parking lot of a local supermarket.
And when it is the 100-foot aerial platform fire engine it is twice as hard to miss.
Manteca Mayor Ben Cantu believes this is “bad optics” for the average Mantecan.
Cantu’s remarks came during a Manteca City Council workshop Tuesday on the proposed 2021-2022 capital improvement plan when he admonished Interim Fire Chief Dave Marques for not asking for more money.
The department — true to form — advanced requests needed to do their job and keep the community safe. That is why all $1.8 million in spending requests were endorsed by Interim City Manager Michael Harden’s office.
There was little doubt the point Cantu was seeking to make. It is the same one he hammered away at in five campaigns seeking election to the council. It is the same one he continues to pound on in the two plus years after he was elected mayor.
Cantu believes staff over the decades has been hammered into submission to ask for only what they know they can secure in a budget each year as opposed to asking for what they need.
That may has been the case in the past but given the current city management that Cantu had a key role in putting in place some credit is needed for staff being prudent, looking ahead, being efficient and thinking out-of-the-box without taking their eyes of the proverbial ball and delivering critical services.
Cantu believes the city needs a 100-foot ladder truck but that it does not need to run it to medical emergency calls and such due to his concern that the $1 million apparatus had a shortened time of frontline use triggering the need for a $1.4 million replacement engine 11 years after it was placed into service.
This would require hiring nine additional firefighters to staff the engine as a ladder truck that almost exclusively goes to fires and not medical calls that compromise the bulk of the department’s calls.
That is because firefighters would still have to man the fire engine assigned to the station where the aerial truck is housed.
The bottom line in payroll costs alone that represents $1.2 million a year in reoccurring expenses.
Manteca paid handsomely last year for an outside consultant to access the level of service the department provides, ways to improve it, and recommendations for future operations. It basically backed up what department personnel have been saying for years. The next logical and most cost effective step is not building a sixth fire station as Cantu insists but within the next six to 10 years funding a second engine company at the Union Road fire station.
The station currently handles 20 plus calls a shift. It is strategically located off the 120 Bypass and central to development north of the freeway and areas yet to develop south of the freeway.
It also is at the center of all “big structure” — Spreckels Park, Great Wolf/Airport Way corridor, and the South Main retail and adjacent industrial park area.
The station was designed to house two engine companies including a 100-foot aerial truck. The plan is when the city is to the point of needing another engine company and can fund it, the aerial truck will be shifted there and a standard fire engine will replace it at the Powers Avenue station.
The reason the current 100-foot truck is not housed now at Union Road is simple. It has the highest number of calls and as such it would further accelerate the wear and tear on the aerial truck, the most expensive apparatus in the department.
The inference by Cantu that somehow the department is underserving Manteca or is rapidly moving to that point is puzzling.
Just months ago he was heaping praise on the department after the council was presented with the outside consultant’s report.
It was justifiable praise. Response times to fires and medical emergencies are almost always within the targeted five-minute goal. The department’s effectiveness at keeping the city safer has earned it a No. 2 rating by the Insurance Services Office. It is a rating just 3 percent of the 27,228 fire departments in the nation attain.
Deploying an aerial truck at a station in lieu of standard engine underscores how Manteca achieved such a rating that is reflected in more reasonable insurance premiums for homeowners and businesses alike.
The city clearly is not in a position yet to afford staffing a stand-alone aerial truck. Yet it could not afford not to have the capabilities that an aerial truck brings.
Manteca was the Johnny-come-lately to aerial trucks in the South County. Tracy, Lathrop, and even Ripon had them in place years before Manteca.
That said the department has put the aerial truck to effective use. In the past 40 days it was credited with saving two commercial structures from going up in flames — Sammy’s Tire on North Main Street and the Old City Hall on Maple Avenue in downtown Manteca. Several years ago it was critical for keeping the fire contained at the then under construction Tesoro apartment complex until additional aerial trucks arrived from surrounding jurisdictions. As a result more than half of the buildings were saved that would have been lost if the first response has been standard fire engine companies.
The cost difference between a new fire engine and a new aerial truck is roughly $900,000.
That means for $900,000 Manteca for the next six years — assuming that is when growth and funding justifies adding a second engine company at the Union Road station — gets the benefits of an aerial truck.
Meanwhile they avoid $7.2 million in staffing costs. That makes the $900,000 spent on the replacement aerial truck a prudent, efficient, and effective move that keeps the high standards of Manteca Fire in place without reckless financial overkill that would undermine long-term efforts to keep all stations opened and fully staffed.
As for those fire trucks in supermarket parking lots, firefighters work 48 hour shifts and then are off for three days. The firefighters pool their own money to feed themselves — and not the city — hence the trip to the supermarket.
The community can ill afford to have any of the three firefighters far away from their engine during their shifts. They have to be able to respond together as a team no matter where they might be.
Departments such as Los Angeles respond to medical emergencies with rescue squads that are housed at fire stations along with engine companies.
Manteca is not at the point where call volume or revenue justifies such a move.
Instead the Manteca Fire Department over the years has wisely chartered a course that delivers on its commitment to protect the lives and property of the community they serve.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org