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Almanac

News - September 5, 2018

Menlo fire district swaps priorities for new fire stations

by Barbara Wood

After the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District balked in June at approving the up to $70 million cost to build a new fire station and other facilities at its 300 Middlefield Road property in Menlo Park, Chief Harold Schapelhouman returned last week with a new set of priorities that divides that project into two stages and gives rebuilding that fire station the lowest priority on the list.

The fire board unanimously approved the new list at its Aug. 21 meeting, with director Virginia Chang Kiraly absent.

The question of the cost of the projects and how to pay for the work remains.

"There's no doubt we need more money to accomplish some of these things," Schapelhouman said. Board President Chuck Bernstein asked to see a budget including all projects on the list.

Bernstein and board member Robert Jones both asked that a master plan for the entire 300 Middlefield Road site be approved before any work goes forward.

The new priority list is:

• Priority one - Upgrading the warehouse the district recently purchased in East Palo Alto so the district can rent approximately 10,000 square feet of it to the federal government's Urban Search and Rescue Task Force for $10,000 a month (already underway).

• Priority two - Removing the pool, upgrading the home and possibly building a new structure on the district's 28 Almendral Ave. property in Atherton.

• Priority three - Building a new training tower, meeting rooms and emergency operations center at 300 Middlefield Road, and moving a historic home the district owns on Santa Margarita Avenue to the site.

• Priority four - Building a new fire station on Alameda de las Pulgas. The proposal is for a two-story station with 10 bedrooms to sleep 11 firefighters.

• Priority five - Upgrade the district's Chilco Avenue station to allow one additional firefighter.

• Priority six - Explore the relocation of the district's North Fair Oaks fire station.

• Priority seven - Build a new fire station at 300 Middlefield Road.

District meets response time goals

The fire board also heard a report on the district's 2017 response times that showed the district is well under its goal of getting to 90 percent of emergency calls in under seven minutes. The report showed the district's overall 90th percentile response time in 2017 was 5 minutes, 53 seconds.

In May, the district sent letters to local jurisdictions warning of a need to address "mobility" problems in the district that "will have catastrophic consequences for those needing emergency services." But the report shows that during commute hours (from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.), times were actually slightly better than the overall response time, at 5 minutes, 52 seconds.

Bernstein expressed some consternation at the results. "I think some of the conclusions just defy common sense," he said. "How can they get faster at peak times?"

Schapelhouman said that "it's not just about the numbers." He said during peak hours emergency vehicles sometimes travel "against traffic" in the opposing lanes. "If we had a camera on every one of these trucks, you'd be surprised at what you see," he said.

Strategic planning follow-up

The board received a report from Bernstein summarizing the results of a six-hour strategic planning study session held on July 28. Bernstein recommended the district hire a consultant to help it create a strategic plan, and the board unanimously approved doing so.

Schapelhouman will return to the board for approval of a contract with the chosen consultant.

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