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Prison Project Benefits Collegeville Fire
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Collegeville firefighters are settling in to a new routine ... that of being 'on duty' on a daily basis, Monday through Friday.

The volunteer fire department has officially started its contract to provide fire and emergency services protection to the still-under-construction California Health Care Facility-Stockton, a multi-million dollar facility for the state prison system.

According to information from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CDCR, the Stockton site is a "medium-level medical and mental health care facility (not a hospital) for patient-inmates in California's state prison system."

The 1,722-bed facility is slated for completion in the fall of 2013, with the goal to be fully staffed and occupied by December 2013.

Collegeville Fire Chief Dennis Faist said the department's contract with the state began with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 and that means the Collegeville station is staffed with two full-time firefighters, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

"We got the contract," Faist explained. "We're using our own volunteers on their days off, so far we have seven or eight guys."

By juggling time at the station in between regular work, the more than a half-dozen volunteers are pulling the full-time 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts when they can. So far, said Faist, it has worked out so that the shifts have been covered.

"Part of it is in our district," Faist said of the site, noting that Collegeville was one of a couple of departments considered for the contract. "We presented our case, we were a little bit closer."

The annual contract will bring the department $100,000 and the bulk of that will go toward paying the firefighters for the shifts they work.

"The contract is for fire suppression services and emergency medical services, basic life support," added Faist. "From our station, it's about two-and-a-half miles (to the facility)."

During construction, the Collegeville role will be to provide those services for the workers on the site, responding to any construction accidents or health care needs, as well as any fire alarms or fires. Following the completion of the facility, the department will then switch to serve the inmates and staff with the EMS and provide the fire protection services to the facility.

"They kind of wanted us to grow up with it," Faist explained of coming on board well ahead of the facility opening, with department members making regular visits to the site as construction progresses so they will be familiar with the layout of the complex when it is completed.

The facility itself is being built in phases, with the first phase including demolition of an existing building at the site near the corner of Arch and Austin roads, and ground prep work.

State officials said the goal is to provide a centralized location for prison-inmates, freeing up space in other prisons so there will be fewer releases of prisoners and more options for rehabilitating inmates. The new facility will feature some 1.2 million square feet of buildings on 144 acres. The property is state-owned and is southeast of Stockton, site of the former Northern California Youth Correctional Center - Karl Holton Youth Correctional Facility.

Total project cost is estimated at $900 million and the work is being done as part of Assembly Bill 900, which was authored by Assemblyman Jose Solorio, who represents the Southern California cities of Anaheim, Garden Grove and Santa Ana in the 69th Assembly District.

He classified the project as "good for the inmates" as well as the community at large and the taxpayers.

"It's a win-win situation for many," Solorio said at groundbreaking ceremonies for the facility, noting that the jobs it will bring, both during and after construction, will mean "an economic boom" to San Joaquin County.

The health care facility will employ some 2,400 staff once it is fully operational, pumping needed dollars into the county's economy.

"It's really going to help us as a rural fire district," Faist agreed of the money his department will receive in exchange for the service. "We have 15 volunteers now and we're always looking for more."

The department currently has three engines and a water tender among its apparatus and Faist said he hopes the contract agreement with the state is something that will eventually help him staff the station seven days a week and possibly add to the equipment.

He praised the volunteers that are pulling the shifts when not holding down other jobs.

"They want to be firemen, they're into this and they handle it really well," he said.