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Just how dire is the loss of six firefighters?
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Does anyone really want to see Manteca lose six firefighters?

Most people would probably like to see more firefighters, more police officers, more teachers, more parks workers, and more jobs in general.

As Joe DeAngelis – a frequent critic of how the city is run – astutely pointed out, there is no money.

And unless a lot of people out there are willing and able to cough up close to $1 million more a year on top of what they are currently paying in taxes, Manteca will have six less firefighters – and 16 less overall municipal workers – when July 1 rolls around.

The real question that Manteca residents must ask is this: Are the cuts being made to city staffing in any department imperiling overall public safety?

The answer has to be a qualified “no.”

Those qualifications are obvious. If there are multiple incidents or an engine company is out of position it will prolong response time for firefighters who handle primarily medical calls.

In terms of sheer overall manpower, Manteca firefighting ranks will drop back to 2008 levels with the added caveat that the rescue squad could be staffed 24/7 more often than not. The department will also have “the luxury” of plugging in three firefighters to an engine company to cover vacation, illness, and work-related injury absences instead of paying overtime. It takes nine personnel to man a fire engine 24/7 before you factor in vacation, illness and such.

No one can – nor should argue – that staffing of the fire department has increased proportionately with growth. But actual manpower levels and firefighters per 1,000 residents are two distinct measuring sticks.

Measure M allowed the city to add firefighting positions for the first time in over a decade. They used funding to hire 12 firefighters – six of which will remain on the job after July 1 – to gear up for a fourth station yet to be built on Lathrop Road next to Del Webb. That fourth engine – the aerial platform truck which will likely be the company not manned after July 1 – is housed at the South Union Road station along with a traditional engine company.

Response time to northwest Manteca where 2,500 homes are outside of the 5-minute response time won’t deteriorate as the fourth company is even farther away than the nearest one on Louise Avenue. A case could be made that the Louise station is barely marginally better positioned because it is a straight shot up Union Road to Del Webb from the Union station. Turns add to response times. But then again is a traditional engine more nimble than a 100-foot aerial platform truck when it comes to responding to a medical call?

There also has been one other improvement in emergency response that people overlook that is a plus for those living in the 2,500 homes in northwest Manteca that are outside the targeted five-minute response time for fire personnel. That improvement was a decision by Manteca District Ambulance to open a sub-station on Airport Way north of the train tracks.

That means ambulance service – which is no small potatoes when the vast majority of 911 fire calls are actually medical emergencies – doesn’t have to weave through downtown traffic or make lots of turns. Instead they can head straight up Airport Way and into Del Webb at Woodbridge.

Again, that doesn’t help much if they are tied up on another call. But in terms of the most needed – and the most likely way a Manteca resident could be put in serious jeopardy or even die – function of emergency services, medical response will actually still be better than it was in 2008.

And one shouldn’t forget the first-line of defense against fires – a competent and professional building department enforcing building codes.

Add it all up and the situation – while it won’t be good – isn’t dire.

Restoring staffing and opening the fourth station on Lathrop Road should be a priority when the revenue outlook starts to improve.

The bottom line today - and in the future – is Manteca can only have the services it can afford and is willing to pay to have.