Stockton faces firefighter shortage

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Firefighter Brown gears up at Stockton station. Photo by Ayaana Williams
Firefighter Brown gears up at Stockton station. Photo by Ayaana Williams
Photo by Ayaana Williams

In 2012, Stockton declared bankruptcy making large cuts in the city’s fire services. 

Seven years later, the city has yet to recover from this fiscal emergency and over that period fire staffing has been cut to as low as 30 percent of where it needs to be.

Local average response time is as high as six minutes, according to Stockton Fire Department 2018 statistics.

There are 12 engines that cover all 64.75 square miles of Stockton and its more than 310,000 residents.

“We’re the busiest 12-station department in the nation. Nobody runs anywhere near the amount of calls that we do,” said Mario Gardea, President of Stockton Professional Firefighters Local 456. 

Having small numbers in Stockton’s Fire Department means not only potential safety concerns but may be affecting quality of service as well.

“What happens is we run so many calls, that there are a lot of things we miss out on such as fire prevention activities and other things we could probably be better at; and based on the amount of call volume, there’s no time,” said Gardea.

According to Union President Gardea, Stockton currently doesn’t have plans to resolve this issue and much of the fiscal attention is being shown to its police departments.

However, the department’s concerns stem from not only being short-handed in day-to-day staffing, but also the rarity of local qualified applicants.

It’s almost impossible to pursue a career as a firefighter in Stockton without traveling outside the city to the closest fire academy which is located in Modesto. 

“I was a student at Delta College I took my EMT and all my fire science classes through Delta and did the fire academy though Delta, and there’s no longer that ability for people to take those classes here,” said Gardea. “It really kind of holds back the residents of San Joaquin County or people that come down here to go to college.”

The EMT and fire science programs at Delta College were shuttered in Summer 2013 due to budget cuts.

Delta College currently offers both day and night Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) academies.

The day-to-day staffing shortages come from applicants from outside of Stockton who are likely to end up returning to where they are from once a job opens up there.

“My first introduction into the Stockton Fire Department was because of a guest speaker (Stockton Firefighter) at one of my fire science classes at Delta. Eliminating the fire science and EMT programs has made it difficult for local students to have a pathway to give back to their community on a greater scale,” said Richard Diaz of the Stockton Fire Department.