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Modesto now runs Ceres Fire Department
• Service levels to increase as costs go down
Ceres Fire switchover
Among those attending Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting symbolizing the start of Modesto Fire Department taking over the Ceres Fire Department were Modesto City Councilman David Wright and Mayor Sue Zwahlen, Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez, Modesto Fire Chief Allen Ernst, Ceres City Councilman Bret Silveira and City Manager Tom Westbrook.

Modesto Fire Department officially took over the Ceres Fire Department during a Tuesday morning ribbon cutting ceremony at the Third Street station.

The Ceres City Council voted 3-1 on June 14 to contract with the city of Modesto for fire service. Councilwoman Linda Ryno cast the lone vote against the contract. The move came after the Ceres Professional Firefighters Local 3636 voted to support the merger.

Modesto Fire Chief Allen Ernst said he is excited about personnel from the two agencies mutually serving Ceres and called the contract “an example of government at its best … it’s putting the best resources together, combining those resources, and providing the best public safety to the communities that we serve.”

Ceres will not lose its identity as all Ceres stations and engines will remain as Ceres property with the Ceres name. Outgoing Interim Ceres Fire Chief Mike Botto likened the contract not as a divorce but a marriage.

Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen, a former emergency room nurse, spoke at the short event and said she’s always known all public safety members working together to provide the best services to the public.

“I truly feel like this is a great partnership,” said Zwahlen. “It’s very natural to me since that’s what I’ve spent the last four years doing is working together with all emergency medical services in our county and I appreciate all of your work, and your efforts and respect everything that you do on a daily basis to care for me, for my family members and everyone in our community.”

Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez expressed his thanks to all who made the transition happen.

Ceres City Councilman Bret Silveira said the contract is designed to provide the best fire and first-responder service to the residents of Ceres.

“Our firefighters here in Ceres are awesome,” said Silveira. “The firefighters in Modesto are awesome and to blend them altogether to come to this point is just a fantastic thing for our community.”

Ceres City Manager Tom Westbrook commented that the regional fire model will be invaluable in the future to all the cities in the county.

Interim Ceres Fire Chief Mike Botto in June conveyed to the council that the department was overworked, short-staffed and unable to keep up with growing volume of calls for service. He said the contract with Modesto will provide a greater depth of field in personnel and allow more firefighters to be able to provide advanced life support services as ambulance response times have been delayed. 

Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa, said Ceres “is basically getting the best level of service for less because we’re not duplicating services, we’re not having multiple fire chiefs … plus getting extra people.”

The city of Ceres stands to save $507,000 in the first year which Botto said can be used to pay off equipment debt. He said over the initial five-year term of the agreement Ceres should realize a savings of $1,170,583.

In contracting with Modesto, Ceres now will have a fire prevention division with a fire marshal, inspectors and support staff “to provide an aggressive life safety program to this community,” Botto said.

He also said the city of Modesto offers:

• An operations chief overseeing and directing field response resources, exploring and implanting new strategies and tactics.

• Adding fire prevention and public education programs.

• An EMS program manager to raise the level of service of firefighter to that of paramedic/advance life support.

• Another 40-hour work week battalion chief overseeing and managing special operations of water and technical rescues.

• Special operations like water rescue.

• Staffing the specialized Ceres Quint fire engine with four firefighters, increasing the number of on-duty firefighters in Ceres.

Ernst, who also oversees the Oakdale contract, said he considers the change to be a partnership, not a takeover of the department.

“I truly believe this is a fire system that we are partnering in,” said Chief Ernst. “This isn’t the city of Modesto taking over. This is a partnership that has the system in mind.”

Ernst noted that Modesto can help Ceres deal with a lack of paramedic/firefighters and the delayed response times among ambulance providers by having first-responders who can offer advance life support.