SALINAS, Calif.- Crumbling buildings, low staffing levels and lacking the proper equipment. That's what Salinas Fire said it's stacked up against. Firefighters put their lives on the line every day, even showing up to crime scenes beside Salinas Police who are also facing major budget constraints.
On Wednesday, firefighters at Station #3 explained the driveway is so old, they have to deal with a few insurance claims a year because they're personal cars take a beating as they pull in and out of the station. But that pales in comparison to the bigger issues at stake for Salinas Fire.
"When we have a structure fire, it basically depletes the entire city of our equipment," said Salinas Acting Fire Captain Alfonso Meraz.
Meraz said no one should panic, but when the city has to call on other departments for a second structure fire, it can take twice as long for crews to show up. Fire Chief Ed Rodriguez said he wasn't available for an interview on Wednesday night. But he tells us the department is on a hiring freeze because there's just no where to pull the money from to adequately serve the city.
"So basically all it takes is one emergency and we're tapped out," Meraz said.
Chief Rodriguez said the department needs about $9.1 million to fill 33 more positions, buy new equipment and fix fire stations that are falling apart. Mayor Joe Gunter told us the city is looking at adding the fire department to the recent proposal for a public safety tax to also fund the police department's need for about $21 million.
"Ask the public what they want because that's really you know, we can all really want something on the council. But it's gonna really come down to what does the public want?" said Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, we found out last year the fire department paid more than $750,000 dollars in overtime. Mayor Gunter said that's because the calls still come in, regardless of how many firefighters are on duty.
"If we were able to hire the people and fill these spots, that number would reduce tremendously," Gunter said.
During our tour of Station#3, firefighters showed her several areas that aren't even up to code and how they're working around several fire hazards.