By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Will Ripon’s failure to support a fire parcel tax hike prompt Manteca to drop automatic aid?
MHS 2009 fire
Manteca firefighters put out a fire at Manteca High in 2009.

I do not live or own property in Ripon.

I cannot cast a ballot in the parcel tax election now underway in the Ripon Consolidated Fire District.

That said, I feel obligated to alert those that can cast ballots about the 60,000-pound gorilla in the room.

It’s not a gorilla per se.

It’s the upper end weight of a typical fire engine.

Actually, it’s not one 60,000-pound gorilla.

It’s three.

And the third gorilla is much heavier than the others.

The fire trucks don’t have RCFD emblems on them.

They have no emblems on them, at least not yet.

But when they do, they will be the City of Manteca Fire Department.

They are scheduled between now and next year to arrive in Manteca.

 A bit lost?

Then you need to read the room where the 60,000-pound gorillas are headed.

That room is Manteca.

More specifically, it is the stomach Manteca taxpayers have for their elected leaders essentially using the city fire department to relieve Ripon taxpayers the cost of having to adequately fund its own fire protection.

This is a big deal.

Unlike city leaders in Ripon who have no need like their counterparts in Manteca or Lathrop do to make sure fire service levels are maintained, the city of 17,000 doesn’t spend a dime toward the ongoing cost of manning fire engines.

It is all on the back of the RCFD.

Nor are they facing the need to ask city residents for an increase in sales tax so the level of municipal and services such as Manteca Fire protection —  that includes responding to medical emergencies and such — doesn’t deteriorate.

The optics of the current automatic aid agreement between the City of Manteca and RCFD is not good.

In the past few years because RCFD’s ability to fund necessary staffing has deteriorated, they can only man one fire engine instead of two.

That means there is no backup engine if the one RCFD engine is on a call.

But that’s not really the issue as that is why there is an automatic aid agreement.

The agreement means the closest available engine from either department automatically responds to a fire call regardless of the jurisdiction.

It is different than a mutual aid agreement.

That requires a call to be routed through channels from one department to another. And it also has the caveat that there is no guarantee the other jurisdiction will respond.

Automatic aid agreements are never meant to balance out exactly.

Sometimes one jurisdiction comes out ahead in a given year or vice versa.

And there are more than a few instances where one department year in and year out is responding to more calls automatically out of jurisdiction than the other.

It makes sense to do so.

It is not simply being a good neighbor.

It assures those residing in both jurisdictions the best possible coverage. It can be well worth it to one party even if 80 percent of the time they respond to calls out of their jurisdiction.

That’s because it is well worth it knowing emergency services are available in a timely manner to the people and property protected by the 20 percent of the times the neighboring jurisdiction responds with their boundaries.

An engine tied up on a call isn’t the problem per se, although the frequency of it happening is.

That’s because Ripon Fire was forced, due to a lack of funding, to close the fire station in the northeast portion of the city,

It’s also the fact that a Manteca engine has to respond to a potential structure fire because RCFD lacks the manpower to do so.

It is a steadfast regulation that a minimum of four firefighters are needed on scene before  a structure on fire can be entered. That is two to enter and two on the outside.

The reasons are obvious. It is for the safety of firefighters.

Last year, Manteca Fire engines rolled down Highway 99 at least 168 times for an emergency response in Ripon.

The actual numbers are believed to be higher due to how some calls were logged.

The automatic aid agreement has become a one-way street.

Ripon can’t respond to a Manteca call because it would leave the entire 56 square-mile district uncovered.

It would also severely increase the risk  to the district’s 22,000 residents of which the vast majority reside within the City of Ripon.

So far, the one-sided arrangement hasn’t yet had a negative impact on Manteca City coverage.

But continued robust growth — Manteca in a given year adds the equivalent of more than a 10th of the City of Ripon’s population — is placing strains on coverage that wasn’t designed to serve what is becoming more and more of an extension of the RCFD.

Everyone likes being a good neighbor.

But even the Little Red Hen has her limits.

Besides the potential of clouding  the issue of a tax election in Manteca which can be argued is needed so the city doesn’t start going down the road that Ripon has with the slow deterioration of its fire coverage, there is the mileage issue.

Taxpayers in Manteca should be outraged if $3.8 million worth of new equipment they are paying for racks up an inordinate amount of mileage in an agreement that they are now currently getting nothing in return.

If that continues, rest assured there will be pressure on the Manteca City Council for one or two things.

Either cancel the automatic aid agreement or require the City of Ripon itself to pony up money to help pay the cost of Manteca engines constantly responding to Ripon.

And where would Ripon turn? Nearby fire agencies in Escalon or Stanislaus County are not going to enter an automatic aid agreement that from the start is a one-way street.

The pressure will be on Manteca’s elected leaders to pull the plug.

If, as a Ripon resident, you realized your tax dollars were essentially paying for fire protection in Manteca so Manteca residents wouldn’t have to pay the true cost of having minimum service, you’d make the same demand.

If the parcel tax fails, Ripon’s options can quickly become limited.

That’s because Manteca’s elected leaders would have a fiduciary responsibility to cancel the automatic aid agreement and even think long and hard about having a mutual aid agreement.

As such, it could open the door to consolidation.

That may be a good thing.

But one thing is for sure, Ripon would lose more autonomy than Manteca.

The ball is clearly in the court of RCFD parcel owners.

They shouldn’t forget, however, that there is another player in the game — Manteca.

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