If plans proceed as envisioned for a new fire station in Woodside and a remodeled fire station in Portola Valley, the improvements will include more bedrooms for firefighters, a safer living environment and new and larger garage bays to make parking much easier for firetrucks returning from a call.
Chief Dan Ghiorso of the Woodside Fire Protection District recently came before the Woodside and Portola Valley town councils with a presentation outlining plans to rebuild Station 7 at 3111 Woodside Road built in 1949 and remodeled in 1993 and to remodel Station 8 at 150 Portola Road in Portola Valley built in 1970 and remodeled in 1994 to extend its life for another 10 to 15 years.
The Woodside fire district covers 32 square miles and includes three fire stations serving Woodside, Portola Valley and the unincorporated communities of Emerald Hills, Ladera, Los Trancos, Skyline and Vista Verde.
Among the hazards firefighters confront are the protective outfits they wear referred to as turnouts when fighting a fire. The outfits absorb toxins dangerous to the wearer and when they're stored in the same areas as the firetrucks, they also absorb diesel fumes, Ghiorso said.
"We have an enormous rate of cancer in the fire service, and unfortunately we at Woodside Fire are not immune to that," he told the Woodside council at its Feb. 12 meeting. "Unfortunately, we do have firefighters with cancer. For the most part, they're curable. Unfortunately in our case, we have one that's not curable. So what we're doing is trying to devise stations that are healthier for us."
The district's workload has also been steadily growing over recent decades, with a higher number of incidents and more people passing through the district, whether for work or recreation, Ghiorso said. A graph created by the district shows the volume of "life-saving calls" rising steeply in the 1990s after every firefighting agency in the county formed what is, in effect, a single fire department and steadily increasing ever since. Another graph shows a steady rise in the number of firefighters working for the district.
The fire district is "out of space" to accommodate growth and to respond to new regulations and technology, Ghiorso said.
Plans for Station 7, prepared by CJW Architecture of Portola Valley, are now in the hands of Woodside's Architectural & Site Review Board for review, and plans for Station 8 will soon go to Portola Valley's Architectural and Site Control Commission, Ghiorso said. The station upgrades will cost the district $22.7 million, he said.
The work at Station 8 would be first in line in order to provide bunk space for firefighters while Station 7 is being rebuilt, Ghiorso said in an email. A crew would stay with a firetruck in the vicinity of Station 7 and other firefighters would temporarily relocate to Station 19 in Emerald Hills, he said.
The district is working to build a Station 7 that blends with the area, he said. District officials have met with town officials and with immediate neighbors, he said. "Everybody is (saying) 'This is a good plan going forward,'" Ghiorso said. "As we move forward, we will absolutely (have) more public meetings to get the input from the public (as to) exactly what it is they want to see."
A fundraising campaign is ahead, but Ghiorso said he could not be specific as to a goal. "We hope to get the majority if not all of the funding through the campaign," he said in an email. "I suspect we will get a good idea how well that is going in 6-9 months."
The district has almost $6.5 million on hand in a reserve account for capital projects, he said. The district would like to retain some of that reserve for future projects, "but if we had to, that funding would be used for the station," he said.
Plans for the new station in Woodside call for a two-story building with each floor including six bedrooms, a bathroom and a laundry room, with a fire pole through the second floor. The new station would also have a library, an equipment shop, offices, a training room, a kitchen, a day room and a fitness center.
Just inside the front door of the new Station 7 would be a substation for Sheriff's Office deputies. "Our thought process is, 'It's a public safety building, so why wouldn't they want to be in our house?'" Ghiorso said.
The central area of the first floor would be open on both sides, with six bays for firefighting vehicles.
The station in Portola Valley would get a new vehicle bay as well, along with a new roof, a Sheriff's Office substation and 2,000 square feet of additional space for work and living, the plans show.
A small garden
A drought-tolerant and fire-resistant garden is planned for just outside the front door of Station 7. Plants considered fire-resistant include manzanita and coffeeberry bushes; California lilac, poppies and buttercups; creeping and hummingbird sage; yarrow; and firecracker penstemon, Fire Marshal Denise Enea said in an email.
"These native plants are able to maintain moisture levels that keep them alive and well enough hydrated as to not easily burn," Enea said.
Placement of plants around a building is as important as selecting plants that are slow to burn, she said, adding: "Keeping plants very low near and under windows is important. Also, keeping trees and large bushes at least 10 feet away from wood siding, eaves and roofs is a must for good defensible space."