Directors of Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District (SCFPD) have agreed to help the depleted forces of the Oakdale City and Oakdale Rural fire departments by hiring a part-time Chief Officer to lead fire and rescue operations in the Oakdale area and providing some administrative help by the SCFPD Chief.
During Thursday’s regular board meeting in Riverbank, fire officials said they were continuing a move toward forming a partnership either between the three fire districts or with Cal Fire or even with Modesto Fire Department to pool staff and equipment and cut the costs of administration.
SCFPD Chief Steven Mayotte said his district will bill Oakdale for a Chief Officer working 20 hours a week and for the three hours per week administrative work that Mayotte will provide. But the pay for his own work he intends to go straight into the district general fund to avoid insinuations that administrators are making this move to line their own pockets.
Both Oakdale City Fire Chief Mike Botto and Battalion Chief Rick Fields recently retired but have temporarily returned to the force on a part time basis while that District recently has lost several rank and file personnel due to funding cuts. Oakdale Rural FPD Chief Lee Winton is due to retire soon — he has already tried to retire once and come back — said Mayotte. So it would be a good time to consider a regional fire fighting force for the Riverbank, Oakdale and county areas, probably working under one chief.
Chief Botto took the podium at the Thursday meeting to voice his approval of the plan, stressing it is only a temporary arrangement, and adding that it is not intended to increase administration when rank and file numbers are falling.
“We’re trying to buy time,” he said. “The district doesn’t need more chiefs or replacements. But we do need a chief officer on call for our incidents. At the moment we’re using captains as battalion chiefs. This is a patch. We’re not where we need to be. But we’re willing to pay the costs.”
Stanislaus Consolidated and Oakdale, like most fire districts, have always provided mutual aid to each other and will continue to do so, board chairperson Raelene Brown added.
“This is only a temporary fix for Oakdale,” she said. “It’s their problem. But we’re trying to help.”
Mayotte said the chief officer job would pay $35 per hour. Several well-qualified retired firefighters have already expressed interest in the position, he said. At a previous meeting on Aug. 11, some Stanislaus Consolidated firefighters had expressed concern the district does not have the manpower to cover Oakdale incidents besides its current area, and the district residents who pay fees for fire coverage had not been properly informed of the wider coverage envisaged. They also criticized the proposed raises going to just three “chiefs “instead of being equally distributed among rank and file personnel since the workload would increase for them also.
Mayotte replied at the Sept. 8 meeting the three hours per week he would devote to Oakdale administration represented 7.5 percent of the 40-hour week for which he was paid although in reality he worked 10 to 20 hours longer than that.