A new and larger fire station on Woodside Road in Woodside is in the preliminary planning stages, according to officials from the Woodside Fire Protection District.
The idea of a new station has been a subject of discussion on the fire district's board for about five years, district Fire Chief Dan Ghiorso said. At a meeting on Monday, Jan. 26, the board considered a significant step forward: inviting architects to submit design proposals for a new station.
The district has not yet prepared a formal request for design proposals from architects, Chief Ghiorso said. When the RFP is ready, it will include a budget, he said.
The fire district encompasses Portola Valley, Woodside and the nearby unincorporated communities. In addition to the main station, there are fire stations at 135 Portola Road in Portola Valley and at 4091 Jefferson Ave. in Emerald Hills.
The board is also interested in possibly expanding its one-acre parcel at 3111 Woodside Road by buying and annexing the adjoining one-acre residential property at 3105 Woodside Road, Chief Ghiorso said, adding that he has been trying to contact the owner.
Whatever the outcome of that endeavor, the process is in its very early stages. A groundbreaking for a new station, should it come to pass, would not take place this year, and maybe not even in 2016, Chief Ghiorso said.
As for funding, he said, the district would bear part of the cost and will be looking to the nonprofit Woodside-Portola Valley Fire Protection Foundation for help.
The district has a capital reserve fund of $2.25 million, Chief Ghiorso said. A bond measure is an option for public agencies, but that would be up to the board, he said. The district built Station 19 in Emerald Hills without bond money, and "I can't imagine that (attitude) has changed," he added.
District Fire Marshal Denise Enea commented on the state of the project via email.
"We don't have a preliminary design or even an architect," she said. "The big story is that we are seeking an architect! We don't know what we are going to need in regards to land or what the potential cost will be or what the station will look like."
Designed for two people
The district's main station was built in 1949 (and remodeled in the 1990s) and was originally staffed with two people, Chief Ghiorso said. The firefighters were volunteers. Their tasks in those simpler days included fighting fires, administering first aid, and assisting the public in such situations as rescuing a cat from a tree.
Today, firefighters have many more responsibilities. The bulk of the calls are for medical assistance (EMT calls), but the district is also involved in fire prevention, public education, and inspection of vegetation around homes to reduce its potential to spread fire in what is essentially an urban forest.
Firefighters are also called upon to handle hazardous materials, check building plans, test hydrants, and extricate people from wrecked vehicles, Chief Ghiorso said. And there is the annual wood chipper program, in which residents leave tree and shrubbery trimmings by the roadside for crews with a chipping machine to transform into chips suitable for mulching.
The district gets about 5,000 calls a year today compared with 400 in 1960, Chief Ghiorso said. The increased load can be attributed in part to the district's adding capability by acquiring an ambulance and expanding its response area outside its boundaries, he said, but the station now has as many as 10 firefighters per shift sleeping in one dorm room. They need individual rooms, he said.
The trucks themselves are also cramped. When returning from a call, firefighters stop the trucks on Woodside Road and back them onto the station property and into the bays. The station lacks the space for the trucks to drive around back and re-enter the bays from the rear, as is typical of modern stations.
Once inside the bays, the trucks have a parking clearance of just 1.5 inches on each side, Chief Ghiorso said. The station has three bays but needs four, one each for an ambulance, the battalion chief's SUV, an engine and a rescue vehicle, he said.
The new station could include an emergency operations center and a classroom, Chief Ghiorso said. The training tower would be rebuilt.
The two other stations are not in need of attention. The Emerald Hills station was new in 2006, and the station in Portola Valley is good for another five to 10 years, he said.
As for the new main station, the purchase of the adjoining property would be critical to the design. "I don't think we can fit what we want on one lot," Chief Ghiorso said.
Town Council member Dave Tanner attended the fire district's board meeting and informed the council on Jan. 28 of the plans for a new station.
Commenting on the huge increase in the number of calls that demand a response from firefighters, Mr. Tanner noted that the population of Woodside nearly doubles on a daily basis, including "thousands" of bicyclists passing through.
Responding to Mr. Tanner's announcement, Mayor Tom Shanahan was skeptical. "I'm not personally anxious to see a bigger fire station at the expense of the residents," he said. "You're going to have more of a city effect if you have another big building there."
The town would maintain control through its permitting processes, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said. The adjacent property would also have to be rezoned.
The fire district's plans should be viewed as an opportunity, Councilman Dave Burow said. "I think we ought to be looking at these guys as partners," he said.
Councilman Peter Mason, an architect, said he was particularly concerned about the station's design. The town should "end up with something that is as good as the school is and not some hack job," he said. Earlier, Mr. Mason called the design of the new station proposed for the Menlo Park Fire Protection District one of the "ugliest" he had seen.
In an interview with the Almanac, Chief Ghiorso seemed keenly aware of the sensitivity of the station's design. "This is your fire station and I'm very, very well aware of that," he said, speaking rhetorically to district residents. "We're on a scenic corridor. We do not want this thing to look ugly."
Finding a builder who will do "exactly" what the district asks for will be the biggest challenge, he said.
"We don't want someone from Kansas to come out here and put up a metal building," he said. "If we're going to spend money, do it the right way and proper for the constituents."