H-SANTA MARIA

Dec 21, 2011 11:14 AM by Ariel Wesler

New Santa Maria fire chief prepares to lead the way

Dan Orr will officially take the reins as Santa Maria's new fire chief at Tuesday night's city council meeting, but he faces a challenging transition.

Orr has been with Santa Maria fire department for 10 years. He was most recently the Battalion Chief and previously worked as the Fire Chief in Pismo Beach. Orr will be the fire chief for the largest city on the Central and South coast.

The new chief says he cautiously optomistic about the challenges that face his department. Orr faces tremendous staffing shortages because of a tight budget. Meanwhile, the city continues to grow.

It still feels a little surreal as he stated his title.

"Boy, haven't done that one before. That's interesting," Orr said.

The fire department's new leader says he's honored to be in the new position and ready to meet the city's needs.

"The first thing is staffing station 5. That's truly the top priority," Orr said.

But doing that will require a couple million dollars. so, the city is proposing a quarter cent sales tax.

"If you spend 100 dollars in taxable goods, that quarter center sales tax is 25 cents. Now, that's not very much money but that equals 4 million dollars for the city annually," Orr said.

That money would pay for nine new firefighters, enough to staff and run the new station 5 being built on the northeast side of the city and significantly reduce response times.

Currently, fire crews get to emergencies in 5 minutes or less about 63 percent of the time. Orr says more firefighters would improve that response time to 91 percent.

"I've been telling the members of this department that they'll probably see more change in the next 26 months then they've seen in the last five years," said

The tax could go before voters on the june ballot and if approved, it would be the first tax increase ever imposed by the city.

If this quarter cent sales tax is denied, Orr says that would force him to leave certain stations unstaffed, shuffle crews and pour all the resources into those areas with the most emergency calls.

A consulting firm hired by the city recently conducted a poll and found more than 70 percent of voters would support a quarter cent increase in the city's sales tax.

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