NEWMAN - The city’s nearly 30-year-old fire station is being remodeled to provide sleeping quarters and other facilities needed to accommodate round-the-clock staffing.
Fire Chief Keith Bowen said local volunteers have completed much of the initial work, which has included framing and sheet rocking rooms, and that contractors will be brought in to complete some of the more specialized tasks such as concrete work and plumbing.
The remodel, he told Mattos Newspapers, will provide quarters that allow the department to staff the station on a full-time basis as frequently as volunteers (who would receive a stipend) were available to do so.
The facility is jointly owned and shared by the City of Newman and the West Stanislaus Fire Protection District. The two agencies have increasingly shifted to shared training and equipment purchases through recent years; essentially the same firefighters respond to calls in both the city limits and the surrounding rural area which comprises the district.
Bowen said the fire station remodeling “is something that has been a long time coming” as the call volume and expectations of the community have increased in recent years.
Crews responded to about 875 calls in the city alone last year, Bowen said, which is roughly a 9 percent increase over the previous year.
The ability to staff the station will mean both a quicker response to calls and greater accessibility to the general public, Bowen explained.
“This will allow us to have two firefighters sleeping at the station. This potentially could reduce our response times by five minutes,” he stated. “It will be very beneficial to the community. When it comes to life-saving measures, fires or other things that might happen, we will have people here on the ready to respond. I think that is more in line with the expectations that I have heard from the community.”
The department already has an on-call fire officer designated to quickly respond to calls. That individual is now responsible for an area that includes Newman, Crows Landing and Diablo Grande.
“This gives us three firefighters at the ready,” he said of the plan to staff the station with volunteers, which will still require approval of the City Council and the fire district board.
Pending that approval, he said, the goal is to staff the station seven days a week, 24 hours a day. But, Bowen acknowledged, that is subject to the availability of firefighters willing to fill those shifts.
“That is one of the limitations of a volunteer department,” Bowen said.
He said the goal is to have the remodeling complete by June and - again, pending approval by the city and district - begin staffing the facility starting July 1.
The remodel project involves building two bedrooms into a portion of what was a large open area used as a day room and for training purposes, restroom renovations, improvements to meet ADA requirements and addition of a public lobby.
The Newman City Council recently approved a $69,543 bid from Cordeiro Custom Remodeling and Repair to remodel the restrooms at the fire station.
Bowen said he anticipates the remodel will allow the departments to meet the city/district staffing needs for several years to come before additional full-time personnel would have to be considered.
The call volume and community expectations, he reiterated, have reached a point where staffing the station is necessary.
“It has come to a point where the traditional response (of firefighters) from home is not sufficient to meet the response times and expectations of the community,” Bowen stated.