Modesto Picks One of its Own to Wear White Helmet

Aug. 07--Modesto has picked one of its own to lead its Fire Department, which faces a tough budget year and the potential closure of one of its 11 fire stations.

Interim City Manager Jim Holgersson said Wednesday that he had appointed Sean Slamon as fire chief after he has served on an interim basis since April. He will be sworn in Tuesday in the council chambers.

"For the past four months, Sean has served as fire chief and has provided steadfast and visionary leadership as the Modesto Regional Fire Authority transitioned back to the Modesto Fire Department," Holgersson said in a news release. "It is because he was able to accomplish so much in such a short amount of time and with such leadership that I appoint him to the fire chief position permanently and with full confidence."

Modesto, Stanislaus County and the Salida Fire Protection District recently disbanded MRFA and went their separate ways over concerns about how to govern and expand the fire authority. They formed MRFA in 2011. The city got its Fire Department back July 1, the start of its new budget year.

Slamon, 47, said he will earn $165,766 annually, up from the $152,900 he had been earning. He said he will receive six months' severance if he is released from his job during the first two years as long as he is not released for cause.

The Fire Department faces several challenges, from a tight budget and finding a way to replace aging fire engines to re-establishing itself after being part of MRFA.

"Within those challenges, I believe there are a lot of opportunities," Slamon said. "The first opportunity is to re-establish the Modesto Fire Department. Modesto Fire has nearly 140 years of providing service to our citizens, and that is a great opportunity."

Even though MRFA has been disbanded, local fire agencies still want to work more closely.

As part of that, the Modesto City Council on Wednesday approved an automatic and mutual aid agreement among Modesto, Ceres, Turlock and the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District.

The agreement calls for the fire agencies to work toward having standardized policies and procedures, training programs, and communication systems. The agencies also will engage in what are called boundary drops, in which the nearest firefighters respond to a call regardless of the jurisdiction.

The agencies will keep their independence. The agreement is undergoing legal reviews by Ceres, Turlock and Stanislaus Consolidated but is expected to go before their governing bodies for approval within weeks.

Finding more effective ways to deliver services is important for the Modesto Fire Department. Its budget is $22.6 million, which is about $2 million less than the previous year's budget. The department has about 134 firefighters and expects to lose a few more to retirement by the end of the year. Slamon said the department has fewer firefighters than when he started in 1989.

The current budget calls for the closure of one fire station. Fire Station 6 near Vintage Faire Mall has been identified for closure but remains open. The council has had second thoughts since approving the budget, and its Finance Committee will take another look this month at shuttering a station.

Modesto City FireFighters Association Vice President Ruben Esparza said Slamon has performed well as interim chief. Esparza is glad to have certainty at the top after MRFA had four chiefs in three years.

"I'm excited to have some stability back in the organization," he said. "Chief Slamon grew up in this organization and knows its history."

Slamon said he wants his department to be more involved in the community. For instance, he would like firefighters to attend Neighborhood Watch meetings and talk to schoolchildren about fire prevention.

"I think we have a responsibility to do that," he said. "Fire stations are strategically located in neighborhoods and should be part of neighborhoods.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

Copyright 2014 - The Modesto Bee

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