New Menlo Fire Station 6 combines best of old and new

Firefighter Mike Ralston displays the drones that are used by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District at a July 10 demonstration at Station 6 in downtown Menlo Park. Photo by Sadie Stinson/The Almanac

After a 12-year journey with many detours, the Menlo Park Fire Protection District recently opened its new Station 6, which has an inside that couldn't be more up-to-date with an outside that looks like a throwback to earlier times.

The station, one of seven in the district, is centrally located at 700 Oak Grove Ave., a block from both Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino Real.

The new 8,335-square-foot station replaces an older 3,000-square-foot building that opened in 1953, according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

The new station cost $11.54 million to build, including design fees, construction, project management fees and other costs, according to a district release.

It can house up to eight firefighters and two emergency vehicles, and is connected to the United States Geological Survey early warning earthquake notification system, called Shake Alert. Schapelhouman said that district stations are the only ones in Northern California connected to the Shake Alert Sensor Network.

After considering a location in Atherton, the district decided to stay at the same spot, even though it is a constricted site, because it is centrally located and because it has become an integral part of the neighborhood, Shapelhouman said.

"The two hardest things to do are to move a fire station out of a neighborhood or move one into a neighborhood," he said. "When you move one out the neighbors don't want to lose it, and when you try to move one in they complain about the potential for noise and disruption."

The district bought a house behind the station for $1.5 million which it used to house firefighters while the new station was being build. After construction was completed, the district razed the house to make way for a driveway so that fire trucks could enter through the rear of one of the two bays and exit from the front.

The second bay has no rear entrance and the firefighters must stop traffic on Oak Grove to back the engines in through the front door.

On the first floor is an emergency generator, an internet technology room and a ventilated decontamination area where firefighters can remove and store their clothing and gear so harmful gases don't migrate into the living areas.

There is also an elevator which comes in handy for grocery shopping, which the firefighters do themselves.

On the second floor are individual apartments and two communal bathrooms. The firefighters opted for the two larger bathrooms rather than smaller bathrooms in the rooms to avoid the extra work of cleaning a bathroom in each room, Schapelhouman said.

"We used to have dormitory-style sleeping areas, but with the individual rooms there's more privacy making it easier to sleep," he said.

The station also has a detached garage for a couple of antique fire engines from the 1930s and 1950s owned by the district and a tiny, 1918-era fire station that was relocated from the district headquarters at 300 Middlefield Road and is being used as a museum.

Adding to the historical significance is the exterior design, which includes brick exterior walls with antique reproduction lighting. "Everybody liked the traditional appearance," Schapelhouman said. "We tried to do something that was within the historical aspect of Menlo Park."

The new station was designed by CJW Architecture of Portola Valley and built by Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company, Inc. of San Carlos.

Station 6 was the third busiest station in the district last year with 1,242 calls, according to the district.

The district held an open house at the station on June 22. The station also was the site of a July 10 demonstration of its emergency response equipment and drone program.

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