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Thornton Fire ends merger talks with Woodbridge

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Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2004 10:00 pm

Thornton firefighters and board members say they will accentuate the positive and work to improve their fire district now that the board has decided to break off merger talks with the Woodbridge Rural Fire District.

The Thornton board voted 2-1 Thursday to end merger talks with the larger Woodbridge district. Talks essentially ended on Nov. 4, when challenger Michelle Terra defeated incumbent Rich Edwards in the board election, which changed the balance of power on the five-member board.

Terra and director Bob Springmeyer voted to terminate merger talks, while board member Bill Stokes supported continuing negotiations. Andrew Grundman, who has always proclaimed neutrality regarding the merger, was absent from the board meeting. And as board president, Clayton Henke doesn't vote except to break a tie, Stokes said.

"I think it is a positive thing that we can move forward and focus on the department rather than whether the department is still going to be there," said Nick Odgers, president of the Thornton Firefighters Association.

Thornton Fire covers 45 square miles in the town of Thornton, the Interstate 5 corridor south to about Turner Road and areas west of I-5 between Thornton and Walnut Grove.

The Thornton district borders Woodbridge, whose district includes Flag City, Terminous, west Lodi, western Acampo and rural areas south of Lodi as well as Woodbridge.

Merger talks began in August 2002 after Stokes, Edwards and Andrew Grundman voted at the time to talk to Woodbridge. Henke and Springmeyer were absent from the 2002 meeting.

"I was kind of disappointed that neither Michelle Terra nor Bob Springmeyer were willing to sit down and attend at least one meeting with Woodbridge," Stokes said.

Terra said she voted against continuing talks with Woodbridge for two primary reasons - so the Thornton board could focus on improving the existing district and because Woodbridge proposed to staff the Thornton station with volunteer firefighters.

Stokes replied that Terra should have agreed to meet with Woodbridge Fire directors Tom Alexander and Mike Manna and express her concerns about staffing.

Woodbridge Fire Chief Mike Kirkle confirmed that the staffing issue could have been negotiated.

Thornton has about nine paid firefighters and about 10 volunteers, Odgers said.

"It wasn't a plan of our board to merge, but they were willing to entertain discussions (with Thornton)," Kirkle said.

Edwards, who said he hasn't followed Thornton Fire activities since his defeat in November, said he's skeptical that the district can continue to make ends meet since its annual budget was only $219,000 last year in a community that isn't growing in residential or commercial development.

"It's just a matter of time until somebody gobbles them up," Edwards said. "The money's not going to be there much longer."

Terra said the district has already improved this year through receiving a $175,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a new fire engine that is due in Thornton in the summer.

"Did she tell you it won't fit in the station?" Stokes said.

Odgers replied that the station is too small to house any new fire vehicles. A four-member committee - Fire Chief Chris McGranahan, Assistant Chief Vince Tafuri, Odgers and Springmeyer - to determine how to best house the new engine, whether it be to raise the roof, expand the station or build a metal structure.

Additionally, volunteer firefighters have remodeled the station's interior, including the kitchen and restrooms, through donated materials and expertise.

"It's definitely a much better place to work," Odgers said. "They want to show the community that we're for bettering the community."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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