Oakdale area leaders advance plan for having Modesto run their fire service

Oakdale area leaders voted unanimously Wednesday to have Modesto run their fire service over the next three to five years.

The agreement went before a late-afternoon joint meeting of the Oakdale City Council and the board of the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District. It still needs approval from the Modesto City Council, which could happen June 11.

The Oakdale entities face a June 30 end to their five-year contracts with the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. Negotiations over a renewal broke down over financial and other issues.

Under the new plan, the Modesto Fire Department would recruit the current Oakdale area firefighters, but they would not be guaranteed jobs. Leaders at the meeting said they hope the force stays intact.

The total number of firefighters would increase from 21 to 25 because of economies of scale and the city of Oakdale’s existing growth plan. Modesto would handle fire investigations, safety inspections at businesses, and fire prevention.

The agreement calls for annual payments to Modesto of $2.63 million from the city of Oakdale and $1.97 million from Oakdale Rural. The district serves a 324-square-mile area that includes Valley Home, Knights Ferry and areas north of Modesto Reservoir and north of Woodward Reservoir.

Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said the agreement could be a model for cooperation throughout Stanislaus County.

“We think in order to best serve the residents of the Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District and the city of Oakdale, this is our future,” he said.

The agreement would run through June 2022 but could be extended two years if the partners agree. All of them would have seats on an advisory committee on budgeting, union negotiations and other Oakdale area matters.

The city of Oakdale and the rural district would retain ownership of their stations and vehicles. That has been the case during the contracts with Stanislaus Consolidated. The stations include two in the city of Oakdale and two owned by the district in Valley Home and Knights Ferry.

The rural stations can be hard-pressed to cover their zones, which are sparsely populated but prone to wildfire. Modesto Fire Chief Alan Ernst said he would work on enhancing service.

Stanislaus Consolidated also provides service on the east edge of Modesto and in Riverbank, Empire, Waterford and La Grange.