A multi-million dollar budget increase is arriving at just the right time, officials with the Bakersfield Fire Department say.
The department has been operating at historically low levels of staffing as calls for service have crept upward.
The $3.3 million bump the department is set to receive this year thanks to Bakersfield’s 1 percent sales tax increase will allow the department to return to staffing levels it hasn’t seen since the Great Recession.
The sales tax oversight committee recently approved the funding increase for the Fire Department, which will next be voted on by the city council.
Fire Chief Anthony Galagaza says the department has been feeling the strain.
“You know the adage that says, ‘do more with less,’ that’s kind of where we’ve been at all these years,” he said in a recent phone interview.
In 2008, the department fielded roughly 27,000 calls for service. In 2018, the number had jumped to nearly 41,000.
“Obviously you can see we’ve gone up exponentially,” Galagaza said.
As the department’s responsibilities have increased, it has been limited to a budget that has been far below similarly-sized fire departments throughout California.
The Fresno Fire Department, which fielded 45,049 calls for service in 2018 had a budget of $71 million, while Bakersfield’s budget was $40.9 million, according to statistics provided by the fire department.
The average fire department budget of nine comparable jurisdictions was $53.8 million, with 28,745 calls for service on average.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep up with those numbers,” Galagaza said. “We don’t ever want to have a decrease in our effectiveness and our efficiency, and we suffer that risk unless something is done now.”
The department has seen its response times increase over the last 10 years. It has set a goal of having a 6 minute 59 second average for all response times throughout the city.
As calls for service have increased, response times have gotten closer to going over the department’s goal.
But with the additional resources, the department believes it can stay below its goal.
The department will add 11 positions next fiscal year with a planned 12 positions to be added in two fiscal years.
The new additions should lighten the load for the department’s current employees, the chief said.
“I just want to make sure that the firefighters get the credit,” Galagaza said. “I’m very proud of what the Bakersfield firefighters have done during this time. It’s been rough.”