The City Council on Tuesday approved a plan which will study Turlock’s fire department deficiencies and propose the best course of action when it comes to providing safety services to the community.
According to Interim Fire Chief Michael Botto, the fire department is lacking in countless key areas, including its fleet and facilities, and with the depth of staffing in administration, fire prevention and line positions, or boots on the ground. The department is operating with an understaffed administrative team, leaving them unable to plan for the future though staff has done their best to provide quality service to the city.
In a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Amy Bublak and Councilmember Rebecka Monez dissenting, the Council approved a $79,235 contract with Citygate Associates, LLC, for a six-month Fire Master Plan review/study which will review the fire department’s operations and level of service delivery. It is Botto’s belief that the study will help City Council make informed decisions by using the plan as a roadmap to provide direction for capital improvement funding needs and assist the City in long-range fiscal planning.
Botto told the Council the department continues to feel the impact of firefighters leaving for other jurisdictions, but is in the process of recruiting new members, including a much-needed fire inspector. Fire engines are in need of replacement and repairs, remodels are needed within department facilities and contract services with ambulances have fallen short of the community’s needs.
These are just a few issues within the fire department that need to be studied, Botto said.
“We have identified critical needs and executed action plans to immediately address these. We need to concurrently develop a solid strategic plan taking us forward into the future,” he said. “...Local government, especially in our region, has operated by the concept of do more with less. This has caught up to us and we are now addressing critical needs that should have been planned needs and never reached this critical step.”
Both Bublak and Monez made it clear they weren’t against the fire department receiving the proper guidance when it comes to these issues; they weren’t sure the City needed to spend almost $80,000 on such a study. At a previous meeting, the City voted to allocate a separate $25,000 for a fire feasibility study.
“The real problem is the fire department’s bleeding money,” Monez said. “...Why not take the $25,000 that we’ve already allocated and everybody’s agreed on a 5-0 and nail down, at least, our administration because we need to fix our fire department one way or another...We have to get the administration secured before we do anything.”
Mayor Bublak was concerned about the impact on the City planning department, which representatives from Citygate assured her would not be felt negatively. Councilmember Larson said the study would be important not only for the department, but for the City as a whole which has grown in size, both outward and upward, since the last time anything like the item had been considered.
With the extra cushion of COVID-19 relief and Measure A funding, she implied that the study couldn’t be conducted at a better time.
“Yes, it is a good amount of money, but it’s also a great place to be in to make sure we’re planning adequately before we start making even larger dedications of funds at this level,” Larson said. “It comes with good planning, and Turlock’s always been an absolute model of that.”