County leaders vote to close two firehouses, combine others

The Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with the decision to eliminate two fire stations and consolidate other throughout Merced County at Tuesday’s board meeting. The controversial decision had been previously tabled, and was met with heavy criticism from the community.
A change in staffing requirements from the state led to the surprising move. Cal Fire issued a letter to Merced County last February stating that it was required to increase personnel by November of this year. The new requirements could no longer be sustained by the County’s General Fund.
Presentations and Board comments provided explanation in the process leading up to the decision to close the stations, and aimed to provide reassurance to possible concerns.
“I want people to understand that we’re not just abandoning any place,” said Supervisor Scott Silveira. “We’re not just closing up shop and saying ‘you folks are on your own’…We’ll be having discussions with the cities.”
Two options that had been explored as alternatives to station closures were establishing the County’s own fire department, and obtaining necessary funds from a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant from FEMA. However, the former proved cost prohibitive, and the application for a SAFER grant was rejected.
The Board reaffirmed throughout the meeting that the closure of stations would not necessarily reduce actual fire coverage. Despite reducing the total number of stations to 15, the change would increase the number of personnel up to 90, from previously 87.
The Board presented different solutions for how they would address the changes in coverage, which included auto-aid agreements with Merced City and the option for sharing station costs with Livingston for those respective stations. At the time of the meeting, none of those agreements had been established with either city.
Public comment demonstrated that the community opinion regarding the closures had not changed since it was last discussed.
“You had town halls where none of this was brought up…Was it because it was election time, it was really inconvenient to bring this up?” asked Priya Lakireddy, a board trustee with the Merced City School District. “We

MercedMerced CountyMerced County Board of Supervisors
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