Atwater Fire Department discusses staffing shortages as city's population grows

Jessica Harrington Image
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Atwater Fire Department discusses staffing shortages
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The Atwater Fire Department is sharing details on its staffing shortages to show how its current levels could be leaving citizens vulnerable.

ATWATER, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Atwater Fire Department is sharing details on its staffing shortages to show how its current levels could be leaving citizens vulnerable in their time of need.

The city of Atwater is home to more than 30,000 people and growing.

On-duty 365 days a year are a total of four firefighters to respond to medical emergencies, car crashes, fires and more.

"It does create a concern as far as the fire department and being able to serve those citizens and provide a good level of service," said Atwater Fire Department Battalion Chief Bobby Ayuso.

The National Fire Protection Association requires engine companies be staffed with a minimum of 4 on-duty members.

Atwater fulfills that with two firefighters at each of their two stations.

But certain calls for service require a minimum of four firefighters to respond.

That means both stations can get tied up on one call.

"Once they're committed to that incident, they're committed there and we're relying on our neighboring agencies to support and run those incidents should we have anything during that time frame," said Batt. Chief Ayuso.

In 2021, the fire department responded to 4,800 total calls.

Of those, 350 required both stations to respond. That included last August when Gurpal Samra was involved in a serious multi-vehicle crash on Highway 99.

"I broke, uh, 6 ribs, collapsed my lung," Samra said.

Atwater Fire, along with multiple surrounding agencies, helped rescue Samra from the car and get him to the hospital.

"I will never in my life forget what our first responders did for me that day," Samra said.

While Atwater Fire may have saved Samra's life, while they were there, the department wasn't able to respond to any other calls.

Fire officials say that will continue to happen if they stay at their current staffing levels.

Measure H, a half-cent sales tax that helps fund public safety is also going to sunset, meaning less funding for police and fire.

Atwater Mayor and City Council President Paul Creighton says the city has created 'Let's Talk Atwater' in hopes of hearing from residents to determine what they want to do next.

"We really want everyone in our community to reach out and tell us what's going on, what they want as far as a possible new tax measure or if they're ok with things the way they are. We really don't think they are, we really need to do something and that's why we're having this discussion." Creighton said.

Atwater residents can give city officials their feedback by filling out a survey on the city's website. You can find a link to it by clicking here.