Lodi Fire Department Worried Low Staffing Could Cause Problems

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LODI -- A woman and her infant daughter are being treated for severe burns after their home in Lodi caught fire. Lodi fire units were able to control the fire quickly, but not with as many firefighters as they wanted.

It was a dramatic scene Tuesday morning.

“Smoke, black smoke, flames jumping out of the top of the roof," said witness Steven Fagan.

Luckily, a Lodi battalion chief spotted the smoke and fire crews from a station six blocks away got there quickly with a truck and two fire engines.

“Fire trucks were really yelling and screaming, hooked up there and everything. It really got fast, real efficient," Fagan said.

But the response was uncomfortable for fire officials.

Even though the burn victims got out just as the first unit arrived, Lodi Interim Fire Chief Gene Stoddart say things could have been worse.

“We were fortunate in the incident yesterday," Stoddart said.

A fire like this normally would have four engines to ensure quick rescues and to ensure the safety of attack crews. Because one unit was on a medical call, a total of just 10 firefighters responded.

Chief Stoddart even had to pull hose on the incident.

"To do a full rescue, it would have been very difficult with the heavy smoke and fire conditions, it could have been deaths in that fire," Stoddart said.

Nearby firefighters were training at station two that allowed a quicker response to the house fire.

With one of its engines unstaffed 70 percent of the time, just 12 firefighters were left to cover the entire city of 65,000.

"This engine is not staffed today, this engine should be out training and being available and to render aid when needed," Stoddart said.

This year there were a thousand more calls than there were last year in the growing city.

Public pensions have hit the city hard and that means budget cuts in key city services. And it appears that firefighters will have to hold down the fort for the foreseeable future.

“A tax initiative, or somehow some funding becomes available, I don’t see that changing anytime soon," Stoddart said.

Even though the department sent a crew to the Ventura County fires, it doesn't impact the staffing in the city because the state pays for off-duty firefighters to come in and cover for the missing firefighters.