For several years, Lodi Fire Department’s Engine 1, which serves the downtown area, had been operating on reduced service due to lean budgets and lack of funding.
Reduced service from the engine meant slower response times and the inability to respond to non-emergency calls for medical assistance, leaving those reports to American Medical Response.
But, thanks to Measure L, the half-cent sales tax approved by Lodi voters in 2018, Engine 1 is back to full staffing for the first time since 2012.
“Before Measure L, we were staffing the downtown engine 30 percent of the time,” Fire Chief Gene Stoddart said. “With the measure, that has gone to 100 percent. The availability of the entire personnel at the scene of a fire dramatically increases the safety and the life-saving potential of people in a building.”
Lodi voters passed Measure L by 59.9 percent in the fall of 2018, increasing the city’s sales tax from 7.75 cents to 8.25 cents per dollar. The measure is expected to generate $5.4 million a year for the city’s general fund to pay for services such as police, fire, parks and the Lodi Public Library.
Stoddart said the fire department has received about $1.8 million in Measure L funds since its approval. He said the additional funding has not only put Engine 1 back in full service, but has allowed the department’s four engines, one truck and a battalion chief to return to full service as well.
That means 16 people are on a shift at any given time, he said.
“Many times we have for or five calls in the city at one time, whether it’s medical or fire,” he said. “If we didn’t have that engine that day, there could have been numerous calls from people waiting for an engine. We need people available all the time.”
Stoddart said that call volumes to the department have gone up by an average of 10% each year. In 2016, call volumes increased by 18%, he said.
In addition, 12% of calls the department has received over the last few years have been related to the homeless, he said.
Call volumes for 2019 will not be available until next week, when the department reviews its annual data, he said.
The increased staffing levels have contributed to the decrease in overtime costs as well, he said. But while all engines are at full service, and overtime is reduced, he said the department now faces more than half a dozen vacancies on staff.
“We’re always going to have overtime,” Stoddart said. “But with recent retirements and people taking higher paying jobs at other departments, we’re eight people short.”
He said the department has eight people enrolled in its academy, which will begin later this spring, and his staff is reviewing their backgrounds. Graduation is in July, and if all eight pass, the department will be fully staffed for the first time in a long while, he said.
“We usually get about a 60 percent to 70 percent success rate,” he said of academy graduates. “Last year we had six in the academy, with 100 percent success. So I have my fingers crossed and hope to have all eight of them get out of the academy this year.”
Had Measure L not passed in 2018, city officials projected expenditures would have begun to exceed revenues by this year. By fiscal year 2023-24, Lodi could have faced a deficit of $6 million, which would have likely forced city staff to either significantly reduce services or declare bankruptcy.
Stoddart thanked the voters for understanding Measure L’s importance to public safety.
“A lot of times, voters aren’t totally informed or able to get the information they need about important issues like this,” he said. “But Lodi voters realized what was at stake, and that was the level of personnel needed to help keep this community safe.”