Merced County Times Newspaper
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Fire Chief Parker: ‘Demands for service are increasing’

Chief Derek Parker says his department needs three more fire engines and a ladder truck to have a healthy department in the future.
Chief Derek Parker says his department needs three more fire engines and a ladder truck to have a healthy department in the future.

Every year Merced Fire Department personnel respond to more than 12,000 emergency calls and Fire Chief Derek Parker is sure those numbers will increase in future years.

Why?

Merced’s population continues to grow every year and there has been a significant increase in the number of rubbish-trash fires ignited by homeless people, according to Parker.  He has been chief for two and a half years and has been in the fire service for nearly 28 years.

Parker regularly spends parts of his day trying to figure out how to cope with growth and the demand for services.

Surprisingly, the department’s firefighters aren’t just responding to various blazes around town. There are 68 personnel including office staff.

About 70 percent of the department’s responses are for medical reasons and these numbers are rising. Parker says ambulance response often is delayed and it is not uncommon for it to to take up to an hour for an ambulance to respond to an emergency call. So firefighters are the first ones on scene during these emergencies.

Parker and Battalion Chief Shawn Luce spent part of their Thursday afternoon and evening at an open house at the department’s Loughborough Drive station. This was followed by a strategic planning session for 44 firefighters.

Luce, one of four battalion chiefs with the department, says there are more expectations for service these days from the community.

“We’re a lot busier now with almost 12,000 calls for a year; it was 4,000 calls in 2007,” Luce says.

The department needs another station in North Merced.

“We know we need to build a station on the north end of town. Other known factors are we have to deploy adequate responses to all areas of the city and we need to upgrade our personnel,” Parker says.

Each of the department’s four stations has a main fire engine and there also is a ladder truck. The department needs three more fire engines and a ladder truck to have a healthy department in the future, according to Parker.

There are just two problems here. It can take up to four years for a brand-new rig to show up. And fire engines cost $1 million a pop and a new ladder truck is double that amount.

Along with these worries, Parker says at some point UC Merced will be annexed to the city and that will add significantly to future service demands.

Luce says it takes a certain kind of person “to do this job.”  A close friend and retired firefighter urged Luce to go into fire service 16 1/2 years ago.

Battalion chiefs often are the first ones on the scene at a fire and responsible to calling in additional resources if necessary, along with establishing a command center.

Luce says the biggest incidents firefighters have responded to recently are the blaze that razed the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store on West Main Street and a honey oil explosion at a home that killed one person.

Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.

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