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Lathrop-Manteca, City of Manteca fire effectiveness common concern
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You live in Manteca’s city limits so why should you worry about the financial health of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District?

Let’s put it this way. You have no worries unless you plan to never have a heart attack, a car accident, or your house catch on fire.

The Lathrop-Manteca station on East Lathrop Road at Austin Road is for all practical purposes a de facto fourth City of Manteca fire station.

Forty percent of the time an engine rolls from that station it is as a first response to an emergency within Manteca’s city limits.

It happens as the result of a 1984 automatic aid agreement the two entities entered into that calls for the closest engine to be dispatched to an incident regardless of boundaries. At last count, the agreement sends a Lathrop-Manteca engine into the City of Manteca twice as often as the opposite occurs.

And should Lathrop-Manteca be forced to shut – either permanently or on a temporary basis – their station on South Union Road near Nile Garden School it would require Manteca to respond to any rural emergency essentially south of the Highway 120 Bypass to the Stanislaus River. That, in turn, would extend response times in the southern part of Manteca should an engine be tied up on a call in rural South Manteca. Given you want firefighters on scene to help you within five minutes of a heart attack or seven minutes of a fire being reported for the optimum results, longer response times aren’t good.

You might think that isn’t a big deal since the city’s South Union station has two companies – a fire engine and the aerial platform truck.

But here’s the rub – and it is a serious one. There is a very good chance that continued budget cutbacks forced by revenue shortfall could force Manteca’s to idle that aerial platform truck for extended periods of times. It has already happened this year. Any layoffs – they aren’t that remote of a possibility – would make it a fairly common occurrence.

But, you may say, simply cancel the automatic aid agreement. No problem if you don’t live in East Manteca. It could also be a problem if you are in some other part of the city when an emergency pulls engines to a call and you have an emergency and the closest engine to you is a Lathrop-Manteca unit.

Taking the attitude that it will only be rough for a year or so meaning Manteca could ride the financial crisis out brings up another issue: Why shouldn’t city leaders take steps to make sure they can deliver the most effective and efficient fire service possible?

And given the fact 90 percent of the emergency calls are not fires with the overwhelming being medical calls, you could add significantly to the vast majority of the fire department’s coverage capabilities – at least 90 percent of the needs anyway – but having smaller stations with two-man rescue squads that are one-third less expensive to staff.

No one is saying the best model isn’t a fully staffed fire engine with three firefigthers. It’s just that reality and a changing landscape may prompt some innovative thinking to retain quality service that is affordable.

Given the fact Manteca is surrounded by the Lathrop-Manteca district and that future growth patterns will require it to continue to take away the district‘s territory underscores how the two agencies’ futures are intertwined.

Consolidation is one possible solution just as a joint powers agreement that could even have a set time that it ends is another. A third would be to create two districts with one consisting of the City of Manteca and the rural areas around it and the other Lathrop and its rural areas with the railroad tracks serving as the mutual boundary. You could even create a super district bringing the City of Manteca, Ripon Consolidated, and Manteca-Lathrop together in some form or another.

Or Manteca could pursue a different strategy in how it delivers fire service.

A crisis is a perfect time to explore such options. Financial reality often forces longstanding feuds and differences – those that exist and those that are imaginary – to go to the wayside.

Perhaps after thorough examinations done initially without consultants it may be decided the status quo is best. But there might just be an option out there that will keep the maximum amount of trained firefighters in place, improve coverage, and cap or reduce future costs.

The leaders of both cities – Manteca and Lathrop – and the fire district have an obligation to explore options and to do so soon.

The most basic service your tax dollars go for is public safety.

It can’t be allowed to deteriorate simply because of bad blood from the 1980s, fiefdom mentality or a refusal to budge on how engine staffing and resources are deployed as the region grows.