Roughly four months after instituting a staffing change that stations firefighters at the station, the Newman Fire Station is seeing dramatic declines in response time to emergency calls.

Newman Fire Chief Keith Bowen also expects it will help with future recruitment efforts of volunteers.

Under the shift station program, two people will team up to take 24-hour shifts based at the fire station.

Each team will include a driver/operator and a firefighter. None of the positions are full-time, paid jobs. Instead, the programs rely on firefighters signing up to take the 24-hour shifts in exchange for a stipend. The firefighters are paid on a stipend basis with firefighters getting $100 per shift; driver operators getting $150 per shift; and a fire officer getting $200 per shift. There is an additional $25 added to each stipend for those with their emergency medical technician certification.

Funding for the program was approved as part of the city’s annual budget, which was adopted by the Newman City Council at its June 8 meeting. The change also was approved by the West Stanislaus County Fire Protection District Board.

"The change came after the elected officials realized the age-old practice of responding from home was time consuming and provided no regular guarantee on staffing," Bowen said. 

Prior to the change, the Newman Fire Station had a fire officer position on 24-hour shifts to respond to calls and handle administrative duties. That duty officer, paid on a stipend basis, was only based at the station during normal daytime hours and responded to calls from home after-hours. 

Currently, the staffing program allows for up to three personnel daily — one firefighter, one driver operator and one fire officer.

"This provides the community with a ready response to approximately 127 fires and 736 medical services a year," Bowen said.

Like other fire agencies, the Newman Fire Station is seeing a year to year increase in calls for service. In 2020, the Newman Fire Station responded to 1,214 calls for service, which was up from 1,118 in 2019. 

The more calls can impact response times and having personnel at the station is one way to help lower it. The average response time for a fire during the first half of the year with personnel responding from home was 16 minutes. Now, under the staffing program it averages seven minutes and 45 seconds. For medical calls, the average response time had been seven minutes and 40 seconds, and is now five minutes and 28 seconds, Bowen said. 

"These improvements are based on the fact that the station is staffed on average 58 percent of the month with an engine crew of two firefighters and 70 percent of the month with an officer in charge," Bowen said. "The staffing program has increased efficiency and effectiveness by helping to establish a minimum number of personnel for medical calls, while starting an initial number of personnel for fire or rescue calls."

The staffing changes is also helping when it comes to retaining and recruiting new volunteers. Under the program, firefighters can sign up for specific shifts with the knowledge that unless a major incident happens, they will not be called out on other days.  

"A decade ago the average age of a volunteer was 50 years, now it is 35 years and that has changed the nature of the job," Bowen said. "A drop your fork and run to a fire doesn't necessarily work for them. They want to be able to plan and this program allows for some of that.

"The program gives them the ability to juggle work, extracurricular and personal responsibilities," Bowen said.