Several Guadalupe residents raised concerns about a potentially shrinking Fire Department budget during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, two weeks after city firefighters publicly called on the council to hire a dedicated fire chief.
Around 20 Guadalupe firefighters, residents and family members attended the meeting, some holding signs that read, “Guadalupe deserves a real fire department” and other messages. Several of them spoke during the public comment period.
“My family has been here for nearly 140 years; I’ve lived through a lot here. I feel unsafe now, because funding for the Fire Department is in jeopardy,” resident Alvin Nunez said. “Our safety should not be a line item.”
Another commented on the long drive times if the department were to close or move to a volunteer-only system. Because volunteers wouldn’t be at the stations around the clock, many fear the city would have to rely on aid from other cities that may be too far away.
“The average home flash can happen in six minutes,” said Charlie Martinez. “If we don’t have a department, the nearest station in Santa Maria is 15 minutes away and the nearest in Nipomo is 20 minutes away.”
The comments were made on the heels of Fire Department members raising concerns during the April 26 City Council meeting, where they accused Public Safety Director Michael Cash of working behind closed doors to move to a volunteer-only model and called on the council to hire a dedicated fire chief.
“I’m looking at everything on the table, because I’m asked to. It’s the kind of research that any good administrator would do,” Cash said in response to the April 26 vote of no confidence. “I’ve put a lot of investment into the department. They are a great group of guys with great skills, but we don’t have the money budgeted for a fire chief right now.”
During his report to the council on Tuesday, Cash noted plans to retrofit several pieces of firefighting equipment, including the department’s wildland fire truck.
Although Cash believes he is making strides to grow the department, Guadalupe Fire Captain Ryan Mack and others believe the department needs a larger investment from the city if they are going to succeed as the city expands. At the same council meeting, the city approved nearly 100 more homes in the Pasadera housing development on the south side of town.
During the meeting, Mack reiterated the department’s concerns to the council.
“Thank you for letting me stand up here and represent my guys,” Mack told the council Tuesday. “Going forward, we want fair wages, a fire chief, more staff, better training; basically, we want a future.”
Because the item was not scheduled for discussion, the City Council did not address citizen or firefighter concerns. Mayor Ariston Julian has not responded to requests for comment on the issue.
Negotiations between the city and firefighters’ union are continuing as officials decide on the terms of the Fire Department’s next memorandum of understanding, where terms are being discussed on issues like overtime pay and training resources.