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County doubles number of firefighters at Snelling station

In the six years he's spent as a firefighter at the Snelling Fire Station, Stan Friesen has grown accustomed to working alone.

But that all changed this summer when, for the first time, Merced County added a second firefighter to the quaint Lewis Street station.

Besides funding for an additional post, the Board of Supervisors moved last year to fund a major renovation at the tiny station — dividing its one living/bedroom into two and completely refurbishing the building inside and out.

The renovation wrapped up about two weeks ago, and a second officer has already moved in. The county hosted an unveiling Tuesday night to celebrate the upgrades.

"It's kind of nice having someone else around," Friesen said Wednesday, standing outside the freshly painted station. Laughing, he added, "I have half the workload too now."

The Snelling station is one of only four out of 20 in Merced County staffed by more than one firefighter. Though the station is small and responds to only about 100 calls a year — some others respond to that many in a month — county fire officials say the extra firefighter is necessary because of Snelling's remote location.

"The closest backup station is more than 20 minutes away," said Merced County Fire Department Division Chief Scott Newman. "Twenty minutes is too long if there's an emergency."

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, a firefighter isn't allowed to enter a burning structure without a partner. Newman said Snelling used to have an abundance of volunteer firefighters to meet that requirement, but their ranks have dwindled in recent years.

"If there's a structure fire, we can't have a firefighter waiting 20 minutes to go in because backup is still on the way," Newman said.

County Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, who represents Snelling, said the high number of visitors who come through the area is another reason she supported funding the renovation and the extra firefighter.

"When you look at our population, you might not think it's warranted, but we host a lot of visitors — a lot of people come through to go boating — and we've had our share of serious incidents," Kelsey said. "I really think it was a change that needed to be made for the public's safety."

The roughly $90,000 renovation began late last year and changed the station's interior dramatically. It now has a living room, a front office and two bedrooms, instead of the single, larger room it had before.

The station also got new carpet, a new kitchen floor, a remodeled bathroom, new windows and raised engine bays to make way for bigger trucks.

The Board of Supervisors approved the funding for the additional firefighter with last year's annual county budget. It approved funding for the renovation a few months later.

"It came out really great," said Tim McCann, who began at the Snelling station in July. "It's real comfortable and I think the community out here is definitely safer now."

Friesen and McCann are still making a few more changes of their own. They're planning to do some landscaping and McCann recently hauled in a shiny new barbecue from home.

"Anyone who wants to bring some meat over, we'll be happy to cook it up for 'em," Friesen joked.

The three other Merced County fire stations manned by two firefighters are the Santa Nella station on Centinella Road, the station at the former Castle Air Force Base and the Franklin-Beachwood station on Gurr Road.

Newman said the fire department hopes to add second firefighters to more of its stations in the coming years.