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2010 full of adjustments for fire department

2010 full of adjustments for fire department

Firefighters battle a blaze that began at Yerena's Pallet Company and consumed the better part of three downtown businesses in June 2010.


POSTED February 25, 2011 7:20 p.m.

For the first time in several years the number of calls the Turlock Fire Department responded to dropped in 2010, according to the department’s annual report presented to the City Council Tuesday night.

For the year the fire department received 4,943 calls, down from 5,141 in 2009. The average number of calls per day, which include both fire and emergency medical services, were 13.54 in 2010, down from 14.08 in 2009 and 13.71 in 2008.

“It’s the first time in my career that I can recall a decline,” Fire Chief Tim Lohman told the council.

Also on Tuesday, Lohman, who had been serving as the interim fire chief, was promoted to fire chief, effective March 1.

The most common type of call the fire department responded to was for a medical emergency.

The responses between the city’s four stations were fairly even, with Stations 2, 3, and 4 answering 24 percent each and Station 1 responding to 28 percent.

A drop in the volume of calls was not the only change for the fire department — 2010 was a year of adjustments. Several key positions changed hands and the department developed a new strategic plan that includes a new name for the department.

The organization will be moving forward in 2011 with a new name, dropping the Turlock Fire and Emergency Services in exchange for the Turlock Fire Department and using the new mission statement of “Protecting your quality of life with pride and compassion.”

Over 2010 the fire department saw the retirements of Fire Chief Mark Langley and Captains Tim Huber and Jim Artrip. Administrative Analyst Allison Van Guilder was recruited to serve as the interim Director of Parks and Recreation and Facilities Maintenance. Additionally, a part-time office assistant and one firefighter left the department.

“The reduction in staff and experience has challenged us as a department … but with most challenges comes new opportunities,” Lohman said.

The fire department’s budget for the fiscal year 2010/11 is down about 4 percent from the year prior, which has led to some realignment of responsibilities in the department and operational changes. Since the 2007/08 fiscal year, the fire department’s budget has been decreasing from a high of $7.8 million in 2007/08 to $7.08 million in 2010/11.

“Like other city departments, we are constantly looking for new ways or strategies to cut costs and maintain our staffing levels so that we can continue to deliver a high level of service to our citizens,” Lohman said.

A key measurable objective of the fire department is the time it takes to respond to an emergency situation. The fire department strives for a five-minute response time because research has shown that medical intervention begun within five minutes of a traumatic injury or cardiac event significantly increases the odds of survival. In 2010 the fire department had an average response time of 5:04, just seconds off from the five minute goal. In 2009, the average response time was 4:58.

There were 1,568 fires in the city in 2010 with an estimated total fire dollar loss of $1.36 million. The dollar amount is the lowest it has been in four years. Of the total number of fires in the city, 38 were ruled as arson, the same as the previous year.

Fortunately, the numbers of reported injuries in the fire department were few in 2010. The department saw 12 injuries for the year, with muscle strain the most common injury.

The declining budget is having an effect on the fire department’s equipment as the report shows that dealing with older and faulty equipment are taking its toll.

The mobile data computers on the fire engines are essential for relaying information between the dispatch center and the crews on scene.

“These units are approaching eight years old and we saw a trend in the past two years of increased repairs to the units,” Lohman stated. “The problems were on multiple engines, getting worse as time went on.”

An Assistance to Firefighter grant awarded to the Modesto Fire Department for all of Stanislaus County will help with the replacement of the old computers. It does require a 20 percent match by the local agency, which the City Council previously approved. Lohman hopes the new units will be installed by spring.

The troubles with equipment extend to the fire engines as well. In 2010, it was the department’s newest engine that recorded the largest number of down hours for repairs and warranty work. Engine 32, a 2008 vehicle, was down for 66 hours. Because it is still a fairly new vehicle, most of the repairs have been covered under the warranty, Lohman said.

“We’ve had nothing but problems with that engine,” Lohman lamented.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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