Fire Station Foes Ignore History, Wildfire Fighting Reality

Friday May 07, 2004

The recent commentary in the Berkeley Daily Planet by opponents of the new Shasta Fire Station is proof that anti-civic behavior does not die easily. These opponents, having watched a failed appeal to the City Council and a failed law suit against the city (by individuals) to block construction of the fire station, are now attempting a last stand by discrediting the results of an exhaustive four-year public process that produced the program and final design for the new fire station. They are now arguing that the station is unnecessarily large and that the city should not be spending money in tight financial times. They say that the new station will be “an oversized, exorbitantly expensive building” even though it is being built in an area where some of the houses are larger then the size of the new station. Let’s be clear: this is not a group of concerned citizens trying to protect the city’s financial interest but some of the same group that have argued that “a fire station is inappropriate in our bucolic neighborhood.”  

The funds for this station were approved by Berkeley voters in 1992, as part of Measure G which called for the upgrading of all of Berkeley’s fire stations and for the construction of this new station. Work on all of the stations in the city has been completed with the exception of Station No. 7 (to be used for storing wildfire firefighting equipment) and the New Shasta Station. Those who continue to oppose the construction of the station had the opportunity for participation in the public process that established this program, and to attempt to discredit the final results only reflects on their own selfish interests in not wanting the station built. 

The program for the new fire station was carefully developed by the Berkeley Fire Department in cooperation with East Bay Regional Municipal Parks Fire Department and was scrutinized and modified through a public process that included an Environmental Impact Report and 24 public meetings and hearings. The station includes a three-bay (three-truck) facility, two bays for city and one bay for an East Bay Parks truck, living facilities for the three rotating crews and a public meeting room which doubles as a dorm for the East Bay Parks crew during the summer fire season. The fire department originally requested a 10,000 square-foot facility on the 19,000 square-foot property. This was reduced after public input to 6,800 square feet. The size of each individual component matches or is smaller then the Alameda County Fire Department construction standards being used by other municipalities throughout the county. In fact, while the new three-bay Shasta Station is now programmed at 6,920 square-feet, a three-bay station was recently built in Dublin which is 12,800 square feet, 5,880 square feet larger than the new Shasta Station.  

It is important to understand that the living and equipment storage requirements of a fire station are substantively different from those of an ordinary house. Three crews will rotate through the station and that requires uniform and clothing storage as well as food service facilities for three “families” of three. The crews are required to be physically fit to perform their most demanding duties, so like other modern stations the new Shasta Station will provide a fitness room. In addition this station will house a full crew from the East Bay Regional Park District during the wildfire season. Currently that crew spends their nights on duty in sleeping bags in the East Bay Park’s corporation yard. In addition the truck bays require special storage and washing facilities for fire fighting clothing and equipment to separate out toxic materials that are inherent in fire scenes. All told, a fire station has very special requirements and safety demands that require special facilities to meet those demands. It is simply not responsible to claim that the new station is oversized. 

The current Station No. 7, at Shasta and Queens Road, which is seismically unsafe, was built in 1939, 65 years ago. We should expect the new Shasta Station to serve the city for at least that long. Reducing the size of the new station that will be the only Berkeley station east of the Hayward Fault and which we will be expecting to serve us for perhaps, the next 100 years would be folly. Instead of asking why can’t we reduce the size of the station we should all be asking “is it large enough”? Are we providing everything we need in this facility that will be our first line of defense against the next, inevitable fire storm? Are we building a facility that will be adequate 50 or 100 years from now? 

Yes, the station will go before the Zoning Adjustments Board on May 13 and we urge the board to sustain their previous support for the construction of the station. Perhaps at that meeting the opponents will explain how the costs the city sustained in defending against the suit to block the project and the increased construction costs brought on by the unnecessary two year delay caused by opposition to the project has been in the city’s financial interest.  


Neighbors for Fire Safety: Eric Arens, Barbara Allen, Steve Beckendorf, Gloria Bowles, Jay and Zee Claiborne, Art and Sue Day, Jean and John DeWitt, Rex Dietderich, Tom Edwards, Bob Flasher, Genevieve Dreyfus, Vonnie Gurgin, Erwin and Natalie Hahn, Vic Kley, Collin Murphy, Austin Olson, Bob Schneider, Trudy and Jack Washburn, Holly Wilson