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Fire chief to decide when and where to send strike teams
Chief Ken Wise.jpg
Kevin Wise raised his hand to take the oath of office as Ceres’ new fire chief Monday evening. Mayor Chris Vierra administered the oath. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Ceres Fire Chief Kevin Wise was given the latitude last week by the council to determine if and when and how many of his firefighters will be committed to any future calls for mutual aid strike teams.

Initially the council wanted to limit how far Ceres firefighters will be going in California, which stretches 770 miles between Oregon and Mexico and 250 miles between the Pacific Ocean and Nevada. On Aug. 26 the council said it will let Wise decide where, when and if he can commit crews to help the state fight serious fires.

Typically only two to four firefighters would participate in a strike team called by CalFire. Wise said it could be one firefighter.

Earlier in August the council reversed its policy of not participating in strike teams since state reimbursements help cover labor and travel costs and wear and tear on Ceres fire engines. The council made it clear that they want those state reimbursements to be earmarked in a fund for fire apparatus replacements.

Wise’s first recommendation was to not limit the area to which Ceres would respond but later scaled back that area to the southernmost regions or look at specific counties.

Finance Director Suzanne Dean clarified that the city is not receiving “revenue” from the state and that the reimbursements are for city costs only, not to “make a profit” off the state.

Councilman Mike Kline backed away from his desire to limit coverage to north of the Grapevine but felt Wise needed to have discretion.

“We hired Chief Wise for a reason. If we can’t let him do his job, then why did we hire him?” asked Kline rhetorically. “I’m going to support whatever decision Chief Wise makes.”

He added that firefighters want to grow in their career and find strike team participation to serve as training.

Kline also wants a strict accounting and report on strike team costs and reimbursements.

“It’s whatever you decide, chief,” said Councilman Bret Durossette. “Wherever you want to go. Obviously we don’t sell our city short.”

Mayor Chris Vierra agreed, saying as long as the city is adequately reimbursed, “it’s the right thing to do.

“I know if we were going through a disaster or something, we would appreciate as much help as we could get so I can support this.”