Menlo Park Fire Protection District plans to demolish its 72-year-old fire station on Alameda de las Pulgas starting Jan. 21, making way for a new structure the district says will offer improved services.
The new 13,200-square-foot, two-story building will replace the existing single-story, 3,800-square-foot Station 4, the district's oldest, which is located at 3322 Alameda de las Pulgas at the corner of Valparaiso Avenue. The fire district's board of directors greenlighted the approximately $10.5- to $11.5-million building during its December meeting. The sum is about $5.5 million below a budget estimate, Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.
The new building would increase the capacity for more staff, adding 10 bedrooms for firefighters, an energy-efficient system including solar panels and an electric vehicle charging station; a conference room for training and meetings; earthquake and disaster features such as early earthquake warning and automatic gas shut-off; a drone aerial port for surveilling fires; an emergency backup generator; and a 1,000-gallon above-ground fuel storage tank. Decontamination systems will help protect firefighters from cancer-causing chemicals brought into their quarters on gear and from spreading viruses within the firehouse, he said.
The station will help solve numerous problems in an area that is fraught with firefighting and safety challenges. Station 4 serves West Atherton, West Menlo Park, including unincorporated areas, parts of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Homes are large and expensive, there's hilly terrain and dense vegetation in places, Schapelhouman said. It's a place where firefighters often get "thrown a curveball," he said. In one incident, a home fire went to five alarms.
The new station will enhance fire service in multiple ways. It can house the largest ladder truck in the district's firefighting arsenal, which will aid accessing fires in multiple-story, large residences. An aerial drone port allows firefighters to launch specialized, camera-equipped drones from atop the building for fire surveillance.
The "smart" station will also be equipped with an early-warning system to open bay doors in an earthquake or power outage to prevent equipment from getting locked inside.
The new station will add more than firefighting prowess to Station 4. It will also be safer for the community and firefighters. Currently, the trucks and engines must back into the building. Schapelhouman said that's nearly caused accidents when impatient drivers swerve around the large vehicles and firefighters who guide the equipment in the street.
"I've seen cars drive up on the lawn and tear up the grass" as they tried to get around the fire vehicles, Schapelhouman said.
Three drive-thru bays will remedy that situation so the engines won't need to turn around to back in, he said.
For firefighters, living conditions and personal safety are also improving. A total of 10 bedrooms — more than double the current four — will allow additional staffing as needed. An upgraded heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system with HEPA filters will keep living quarters safer, reducing pollutants and pathogens from viruses and bacteria. The station will have separate rooms for storing fire gear, a source of concern after a fire since it off-gases cancer-causing pollutants deposited from blazes, he said.
Some things won't be coming back, however.
An air-raid warning system from the 1950s and '60s will be replaced by long-range communications with the capability of sending out emergency voice alerts as far as a mile away. And the classic, old brass fire pole will be replaced with a stainless steel one to eliminate having to maintain the brass, he said. There will also be an elevator for those who can't or don't want to use the pole.
Staff and equipment have already moved out of the building. They are temporarily housed in a single-family residence adjacent to the station on Valparaiso Avenue. The district purchased the residential property for $3.2 million and will merge the station and residential lots for the new station, Schapelhouman said. They have added a temporary structure to house the apparatus, he said.
The district used cash reserves it has set aside in its capital improvement account to replace fire Station 4. The construction should be completed in about one and a half to two years, he said.
Schapelhouman is excited about having a fire station that will last and be adaptable for 50 to 75 years, but he is also sentimental about the old station. It's the first station the chief worked in as a captain.
"It's a bittersweet thing for me to see it go," he said.
Although he has talked about retiring after 40 years of service in the district, he said he's asking the board if he can stay on after his contract expires in June.
"I would like to stay. I didn't get everything done," he said. The COVID-19 pandemic has set back projects, and besides, he still loves the job, he said.
There is one more station to rebuild to complete the district's upgrades, and he's looking forward to seeing that project through: "Station 1," he said.