They flooded the Sacramento City Council chambers, person after person from Natomas, imploring the council to staff a firetruck and an ambulance for the area that speakers said would save lives.
They told officials stories of near-misses, what could have happened in emergencies in an area Fire Chief Walt White said has some of the longest response times in the city.
After hours of public comment, the council voted Tuesday to amend the fire budget for fiscal year 2015-16 to include the staffing additions. If the positions are approved when the council finalizes the budget next month, it will bolster emergency services for the nearly 100,000 people who live in Natomas and put to use a firetruck that has sat idle for years. The community is served by just one firetruck and one ambulance.
White said it could cost about $2 million to staff the firetruck and an ambulance. But Brian Rice, the president of the firefighters union Local 522, said in an interview Thursday he’s hopeful the city will approve the funding nonetheless.
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“By no means is this a done deal,” Rice said. “There’s still another vote that needs to happen, but I’m hopeful.”
On Tuesday, Rice told the council: “The community of Natomas has waited and they’ve waited patiently. Now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.”
If the proposal passes, it would fill a safety void that City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby – who got her political start as a Natomas activist – said the neighborhood has been forced to live with for years.
In 2013, people in Natomas paid extra taxes for a second firetruck at Station No. 43. Ashby said the agreement was that the city would staff it once the community had their truck. But in the time since, that truck has sat unused.
Leslie Rubalcava was at a park opening recently when a toddler stopped breathing. She said the little boy’s face went from rosy-cheeked and full of life to purple and then white.
“I said to myself, ‘I really hope CPR works, and where are the paramedics?’” she said. “I couldn’t even hear any sirens coming.”
Rubalcava gave the child CPR while two other Natomas residents supported the boy’s pregnant mother, Ashby said. Before paramedics arrived, despite several 911 calls, a local doctor had responded to the park to help the child.
“I couldn’t help but think, what if his situation had been different?” Rubalcava said. “What if he had required an ambulance, and the ambulance had been busy serving one of the other 99,999 (Natomas) residents? What then?”
All told, more than 30 people spoke in favor of staffing the truck from Station No. 43 and designating another ambulance to serve Natomas.
In a 6-3 vote, the council agreed to add the two items to the fire budget, which is still awaiting final council approval. The holdouts: Councilmen Steve Hansen, Jeff Harris and Jay Schenirer.
The three said they wanted further study on the most economical way to provide Natomas with more emergency services. Hansen and Schenirer proposed pushing the vote back another two weeks. The rest of the council refused.
“Do we want to allow the current situation with low response times, slower than anywhere else in the city, to exist while we wait for a study to come back?” asked Councilman Larry Carr.
Marissa Lang: (916) 321-1038; @Marissa_Jae