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Gilroy’s firefighter union issued a plea to the public on Sept. 23, asking residents to reach out to officials to demand more staffing coverage on the west end of the city as contract negotiations are underway.

The response from city officials was swift, with City Administrator Jimmy Forbis and Fire Chief Jim Wyatt releasing a letter Sept. 25 outlining, among other things, the number of calls the fire department receives citywide, and also the amount of funds the city allocates to the department.

Before the Gilroy City Council went into closed session on Oct. 2 to discuss the firefighters’ contract, nine people addressed the council about the situation, in addition to about a dozen letters submitted beforehand.

In the letter, posted by the Gilroy Firefighters Association Local 2805 on social media, the union stated that the temporary fire station, located on the Ranch Site of Christmas Hill Park, has “faced severe staffing challenges, resulting in inconsistent service levels” for the past four years.

“For a significant duration, the station has been staffed with just two responders for a mere 12 hours a day, from 8am to 8pm,” the letter stated, adding that at times earlier this year, it was “completely unstaffed.” “Unfortunately, this staffing level is insufficient to handle the wide range of emergencies our community may face.”

Steven Hayes, president of the union, told the council that the station needs to be staffed with three firefighters in order to cover one of the busiest areas of the city, especially with the many new homes constructed in the Glen Loma Ranch development.

“Chief Wyatt has explained that we are really good at our job once we get [to an emergency], as our save rate is one of the highest in the county,” he said. “But if we’re not there in time, it’s not a good patient outcome.”

Hayes added that one of the primary call-generators in the area is the senior communities off of Third Street, but “it takes us a long time to get there.”

“We need to staff this station and we need your help,” he told the council.

Christopher Cobillas, who lives near Gavilan College in Gilroy’s west side, said emergencies don’t happen only between the hours of 8am and 8pm.

“It is completely irresponsible to gamble on my neighbors’ and my family’s lives by not fully staffing the Santa Teresa station,” he said.

In their letter, Forbis and Wyatt compared the amount of calls the Santa Teresa District receives compared to the rest of the city, concluding that it amounts to 6% of the total calls.

Staffing the station during times of low demand is “not fiscally responsible,” they wrote.

“Consistent with the City’s commitment to ensure service levels, the City’s Fire Chief will continue to upstaff that station when the call volume dictates or during wildland fire danger consistent with the data,” the letter reads.

Over the past four years, the city has invested $7.9 million into the fire department, according to the letter, which includes two new fire engines and gear, along with a 5% salary step increase agreed upon in 2022 for the next four years. The city’s recently approved budget will add two firefighters beginning in July 2024.

A modular fire station to upgrade the facilities at Christmas Hill Park is also on its way, which will include sleeping quarters, an office, shower and kitchen, allowing for 24-hour staffing. The recent removal of the speed bumps in the Christmas Hill Park parking lot helped quicken response times, Wyatt said at a council meeting earlier this year.

“We welcome a healthy discussion about the status of our fire department,” Forbis’ and Wyatt’s letter stated. “Addressing specific issues allows for better performance and better patient outcomes. There are many variables in providing fire protection and medical services—minimum staffing is just one of them.”

Bob Weaver, who lives in the area covered by the Santa Teresa station, took issue with the wording of the letter, saying that the call volume looks low because the station is not open 24/7.

“It makes it look more like a labor management problem and not a public safety problem,” he said. “It’s a perception that people who live south of Uvas Creek are expendable.”

The council is slated to consider staffing options for the Santa Teresa Fire Station on Nov. 20.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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