With the recent retirement of Fire Chief Mason Hurley and Assistant Fire Chief Robert Strauch, the Los Banos Fire Department is in flux.

Police Commander Ray Reyna is currently the acting fire chief, working closely with Cal Fire Unit Chief Mike Van Loben Sels, who is overseeing operations along with battalion chiefs, and assisting at fires and major incidents.

In addition, Merced County Fire Station 71  is responding to all first alarm structure fires through a mutual aid agreement with the City of Los Banos.

Currently the city is working on hiring a new fire chief. Once that person is hired, Reyna said he will  assist the new chief during a transitional period.

“My vision for the department,” Reyna said, “is to continue to provide excellent service to the citizens of Los Banos and continue to employ great employees who want to work for the City of Los Banos.

“This will start,” said Reyna, “with finding a chief to join the ranks and continue moving the department forward.”

Los Banos Firefighters Association President Juan Ramirez, a fire engineer with the department, said he wanted to “thank all of the Cal Fire staff and Commander Ray Reyna for their ongoing support. The members of Los Banos Fire Department are honored to serve this community and will continue to provide the best service possible to the people of Los Banos.

“The Los Banos firefighters are working closely with the current administration and city leaders to come up with a long-term plan that will set up our department for success,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez believes the Los Banos Fire Department is currently one of lesser staffed municipal fire departments in the Central Valley and is now dealing with a recruitment and retention problem.

In the last 18 months, the Los Banos Fire Department has lost six members to retirement and three additional members to other agencies, Ramirez said. The city plans to hire a fire engineer to fill one of the vacancies.

Staffing in the department currently includes one captain, one engineer and one firefighter at Fire Station 1, with one captain and one engineer at  Fire Station 2.

Firefighters are working additional days to cover the vacant positions caused by the recent staff departures.

Frank M. Minor