GONZALES — Gonzales City Council has voted to bring in temporary relief to the fire department in the form of an engine purchase and the approval of two new seasonal firefighter positions.
During the council’s May 3 meeting, the first of two fire department-related items was the approval of the purchase of a used 2006 Type 1 pump fire engine from Monterey County Regional Fire District for an amount not to exceed $30,000. To do so, an accompanying budget adjustment had to be made to reduce special department expenses by $15,000.
“This engine has been in service at Chualar Station for quite a few years,” said Fire Chief Jason Muscio. “It is older and has more miles than the engine we currently have now, but what we need is a backup and we need a stopgap that’s going to be able to get us through until such time as we can secure the funding to purchase a brand new fire engine.”
Muscio said that despite the age, the engine is relatively inexpensive and that the firefighters are familiar with it, reducing a learning curve needed to use the engine.
“Our current engine has been having some mechanical difficulties as of late,” he added. “I think I’ve put about $10,000 in the last year or so in repairs to brakes and things like that. When that engine goes down, we do not have a backup pumper. If there’s a fire of any significance in the city or in the district, during that time we’re relying on our mutual aide partners for help.”
Councilmember Paul Miller expressed his support of the used fire engine purchase.
“Unfortunately, fire trucks cost a ton of money,” Miller said. “It’s really something you have to work towards being able to purchase. It’s great we have the opportunity to buy something at this price that gives our fire department that option.”
Also approved was the creation of two additional eight-month seasonal/limited-term firefighter positions, which will cost the city $82,000 over two fiscal years.
City Manager Rene Mendez said Gonzales isn’t alone among California cities struggling with maintaining a volunteer firefighter force.
Muscio said additional firefighters are of greatest need over the summer when many volunteer firefighters go to work for Cal Fire. He said after firefighters have already left to work with Cal Fire and Salinas Fire Department, he currently has six firefighters for the rest of this summer available to work shifts.
“That’s not going to work,” Muscio said. “It’s not going to be effective for us. It’s not something we can maintain for long.”
The new positions were approved and the firefighters would start by June 1.
“We need to give them the tools they need so they can continue to give us the service,” Miller said.
Mendez explained the measures were just a bridge to help the city get to a point where it can sustain full-time positions. In the meantime, he noted the city would seek out grant opportunities to help with department funding.