Modesto had something to celebrate this week: the Fire Department’s return to service of an engine company that had been eliminated in a 2011 budget reduction.
Engine Company No. 11 was back on the job Tuesday at Station No. 11. Interim Fire Chief Alan Ernst said this is the first significant increase in resources for his department in years. City officials gathered at the station at Pelandale Avenue and Carver Road for a ceremony to mark the event.
“It’s a great thing,” he said. “It’s good to see something come back that we lost in the recession.”
Modesto received federal money to help restart the engine company. The Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the city a $2.2 million SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant in the fall. The grant covers the cost of hiring nine firefighters for two years.
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The grant increased the department’s staff to 140 sworn personnel, enough to restart an engine company. An engine company is staffed with three firefighters, three engineers and three captains. Modesto expects to spend about $334,000 of its own money over the life of the grant to cover the difference in compensation between the firefighters and the engineers and captains as well as one-time costs, such as sending the nine firefighters to the fire academy.
The nine firefighters started their training in January, and Tuesday was their first official day as firefighters. Ernst said the Fire Department has made it a priority to find the money to keep them and Engine No. 11 in service after the grant ends in January 2019.
Station No. 11 had been staffed by a ladder truck since 2011, but that truck now has moved to Station No. 5 at Briggsmore and McHenry avenues. Ernst said the ladder truck will provide better coverage throughout the city now that it based in a centrally located station. He added that the area around Station No. 11 will get better fire protection. Unlike a fire engine, a ladder truck does not carry hoses and water.
Modesto is now operating 10 fire engines and two ladder trucks at 10 stations. It closed its station at the Modesto Airport last year, but the station had been staffed by just one firefighter.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316