Southern California Firefighters Getting New Station

Updated: 08-10-2006 12:33:31 PM

The San Diego Union-Tribune

LA MESA -- Firefighters will move into a $7.4 million fire station this month, less than three years after voters approved a bond measure to pay for it.

The new Fire Station 11 is more than 6,000 square feet larger than its 14,000-square-foot predecessor, a cramped and outdated building that city officials said could not withstand a major earthquake or other disaster.

Firefighters will have access to the latest technology, including an emergency operations center able to handle all kinds of visual and audio equipment, as well as a gym, private bedrooms and a commercial-grade kitchen with stainless-steel appliances.

It is a major upgrade from the old station, where firefighters exercised in the garage and slept in one common room. They were forced to park expensive emergency vehicles outside, and the station's wiring was so old that only a few computers could access the city's network at any one time.

City officials, elected leaders and others got a peek at the new station, at Allison and University avenues, during a dedication ceremony last week. An open house for the public was held yesterday. "We really want to show them this is your fire station," said La Mesa Fire Chief Dave Burk. "We're just lucky to work out of it."

Like many others, Burk thanked La Mesa voters for approving Proposition D in March 2004. Fire Station 11 is the first of three projects funded by the $25 million bond measure. Next up is a new police station and upgrades to Fire Station 13, on Grossmont Boulevard.

Firefighters and administrators have been working nearby in the old Helix Water building while Station 11 was torn down and rebuilt.

The most important result for residents is the expected improvement in response times, Burk said. At the old station, firefighters sometimes lost valuable seconds because a rescue unit and ambulance were parked outside.

The La Mesa Fire Department responded to 4,586 calls for service in the city in 2005, with about 53 percent handled by Station 11.

For the eight firefighters and two medics who will work from the station, the changes are significant. They will get private bedrooms equipped with a computer system that alerts only the necessary firefighters instead of one alarm waking up everyone.

"Everything in this station is exponentially better than the last station," said firefighter and paramedic Dave Hardenburger.

Among the more popular features are two new fire poles, which were absent from the old single-story station. During a recent practice run, Hardenburger said, firefighters ran upstairs just to slide down the pole.

"It's old-school," Hardenburger said. "It's just really cool."

Inside, the building is brushed in creams and browns, but it is the varying shades of red that catch the eye. The color is everywhere, from the muted red apparatus floor to the accent walls, red doors and deep maroon recliners.

The station was designed by Jeff Katz Architecture and built by Erickson Hall Construction Co.

It is divided by the garage, with living quarters on one side and offices, meeting and training rooms, and the emergency operations center on the administration side. Fire Department memorabilia is behind glass in the lobby, but the display is expected to change a few times a year.

City Manager Sandy Kerl said that she is proud of the finished product and that the city "delivered on all its commitments."

Firefighters "made do with what they had but it wasn't the best situation," Kerl said. "They were living on top of each other."

Retired Fire Chief Doug Matter, who toured the station for the first time last week, said it will serve La Mesans for years to come.

"It's beautiful," said Matter, who was chief during the Proposition D campaign. "It's everything I hoped for."