Turlock’s public safety agencies discussed their future needs Tuesday night during a city council workshop, with the possibility of expansions looming for both the Turlock police and fire departments.
The workshop, one in a series initiated by Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth, highlighted the departments’ proposed strategies for ensuring the public’s safety as the community grows over the next few years and legislation changes the course of law enforcement procedures and tactics.
Both departments envision a future that will include additional staffing and a larger presence in the city they are responsible for keeping safe.
"Tonight's workshop on fire and police services is not the end of Turlock's public safety discussion, but the beginning,” Soiseth said Tuesday night. “Based on tonight's workshop, the City Council will create a Strategic Plan based not only on input from our chiefs and department leadership, but also from our frontline firemen and police officers. This City Council is committed to placing our already strong departments on a path toward delivering even more effective services."
Faced with an ever-growing number of calls for service, especially for medical needs, Fire chief Tim Lohman envisions a future for the department that will have more fire fighters on each shift, the addition of a fire truck to the department, and some time down the line a fifth fire station in the southeast quadrant of Turlock.
The call volume the department handles has been on a continual rise. In 2010, the department responded to 4,943 calls, while in 2014, the number of calls had grown to 6,160. Even with a rising volume in calls, the department has been able to maintain their average response time. The department’s response time hit its high point in 2011, with an average time of five minutes and five seconds. Since then it has dropped to a five minutes recorded in 2013.
“we believe the demands for our services will continue to rise,” Lohman said.
Lohman also told the Council it would be beneficial if eventually the fire department could have four member crews staffing each shift. The Turlock Fire Department currently operates with a three-person crew operating each shift at the four fire stations.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology released a study recently that found a four-person firefighting crew was able to complete 22 essential firefighting and rescue tasks 30 percent faster that a two-person crew and 25 percent faster than three-person crews.
Having an additional fire fighter would also benefit the city because the changes in home construction has made a dramatic impact on how quickly fires can burn and spread, Lohman explained. The open floor plans and use of synthetic materials in construction and in furnishings has allowed fires to reach a critical level and a flashover quicker.
In the more immediate range, the fire department is hoping the City Council will take action to add one more fire fighter to each shift at station 3. Currently the station is assigned a two-person crew with a third crew member added in each shift and paid for out of an overtime budget approved by the Council. The department has applied for a federal grant that would help cover the costs for a period of time, Lohman said.
“We are coming to a time where it is really affecting our agency,” Lohman said.
Of all the calls the fire department responds to, the majority are for some form of medical assistance. The fire department is set up for basic life saving services, but Lohman believes it will eventually move to a format that can handle advanced life saving techniques, which would include having a paramedic on every engine.
Compared to other similarly sized fire departments in the area, the Turlock Fire Department comes in at a low budget at $7.2 million, but is also the only agency to not have a Fire Truck. A truck differs from an engine, in that it has a fuller range of ladders and specialized equipment for ventilation, forcible entry, and search and rescue.
The fire department purchased a truck in 2001 and in 2006 developed a plan to staff it with a three-person crew, but then budget cutbacks from the Great Recession forced a halt to the funding.
“We’ve now dusted off that plan again,” Lohman said. “It would be supportive in that we would have a full bag of tools.”
Lohman estimated the cost of staffing a truck would run about $1.1 million a year.
Turlock Police Chief Rob Jackson also envisions some growth for the police department in the coming years and it will start with adding more officers to the ranks. Currently the police department is allocated for 78 full-time sworn officers, but only 72 of those positions are filled and only 62 are fully operational.
“We are optimistic all the positions will be filled by the fiscal year,” Jackson said.
With the increased staffing levels the department hopes to reinstate some specialized units and rejoin some county task forces. In a three phase development, Jackson envisions reinstating the department’s K9 unit and sending officers to join the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force and the Central Valley Gang Impact Team. The department already has plans to put the Street Crimes Unit back in place and eventually would like to add additional officers to the Narcotics Enforcement Team.
Jackson said there has been a lot of interest in resurrecting the K9 unit, which would cost about $70,000 for two dogs and the needed equipment and training..
“They are a force multiplier and an excellent PR tool,” Jackson said.
Along with the addition of more sworn officers, Jackson said the department will need to bring on more non-sworn employees to serve in records, dispatch and animal services. The department also has plans to bring back the position of a crime analyst, which would largely be funded through state money.
In the investigations unit, Jackson hopes to convert one rotational detective to a permanent detective position with that individual getting specialized training in cyber and digital crimes. He also hopes the department can soon add a corporal to the unit.
The first phase of progress also could mean the addition of an armored rescue vehicle to the department’s resources. The rescue vehicle is a fast response vehicle that can be used in an emergency where ballistic protection is needed. Jackson said the department currently has to rely on other agencies to fill this need, hoping they have a response time of less than 30 minutes.
To bring all of the phase one plans into fruition it would cost about $449,000, Jackson estimated.