Fire safety delays for NW Quad

– Gilroy fire officials said Monday the city’s third fire
station hailed as essential to service the expanding Northwest Quad
will begin operating Aug. 1 – a month later than scheduled – and it
won’t receive its $268,000 rescue ambulance until September.
GILROY – Gilroy fire officials said Monday the city’s third fire station hailed as essential to service the expanding Northwest Quad will begin operating Aug. 1 – a month later than scheduled – and it won’t receive its $268,000 rescue ambulance until September.

The Sunrise Station located at 880 Sunrise Drive near Santa Teresa Boulevard was projected to begin service out of an on-site, temporary single-wide trailer in July, but delays purchasing the trailer and upgrading the site stalled the station’s opening. Now with the trailer on site and phone lines in place, officials are saying the site will be ready for service within the next 10 days.

Sunrise’s opening has been called critical by the Gilroy Fire Department, which wants to improve its service to the city’s fast-growing northwest section of town – an area of the city that currently records many of the slowest emergency medical and fire response times due to its geographical isolation from the two current fire houses.

The permanent $3.7 million, 8,500 square-foot station will not be complete until April; original estimates called for a January opening date.

“We still have some things to get out of the way,” said Gilroy Fire Department Capt. Ed Bozzo, who is overseeing the opening of the Sunrise Station. “But we’ll be running service calls out of Sunrise (temporary trailer) by August 1 – no question.”

The two-person unit budgeted to respond to medical calls – not fires – out of the $12,000 used mobile home has been stationed at the Las Animas Fire Station on Wren Avenue since July 1, Bozzo said.

City plans call for Sunrise to be staffed by one firefighter/EMS-certified captain and one firefighter/paramedic at all times to respond to medical-aid calls throughout the city.

Instead of a fire engine, Sunrise will be home for a $268,000 Supplemental Transport Ambulance Resources vehicle, or STAR Car, which is a specially-designed, heavy-duty rescue ambulance that carries an assortment of fire-fighting tools and rescue equipment.

But due to production delays on the East Coast, the STAR Car will not arrive in Gilroy until September, forcing the Sunrise crew to respond to medical calls in a GFD pick-up truck packed with medical equipment.

The delay also means Gilroy remains with only one ambulance permanently housed in city limits.

“Of course, we’re disappointed with the delays, especially the STAR Car,” Mayor Tom Springer said. “But a lot of it is out of our hands, so now we have to do the best we can with what we have.”

What the city will have Aug. 1 is a two-person medical team in place to handle the city’s medical-aid calls in the Northwest Quad and backfill the two existing fire stations when their crews are out on fire and medical calls. Because Sunrise’s crew will focus on medical coverage instead of fire protection, city bylaws requiring four firefighters to an engine company won’t apply.

More than 80 percent of the GFD’s calls are for medical aid.

The Sunrise Station’s permanent site foundation will be laid this week by Farotte Construction. However, due to budget constraints resulting from the city’s increasingly burdened General Fund, full staffing for the new station has not yet been approved by the city, and neither fire or city officials are giving a time frame for when that may change.

Staffing the new fire station with two firefighters 24 hours a day – half a typical engine crew – will cost $862,622 in salary and benefits next year, according to the GFD, which will eventually need to hire a total of at least nine new firefighters when it and the city decide to fully staff the Sunrise Station.

Gilroy’s General Fund money, which pays for fire services, is projected to hover around $31 million next year, but due to the recent economic doldrums the fund’s reserves which swelled to $24 million two years ago will be drained by the end of the decade, barring an economic turnaround.

The GFD is budgeted to hire its final firefighter/paramedics to complete its 12-person firefighter/paramedic program by the end of July and bring the total number of Gilroy firefighters to 36, but now those positions won’t be filled until October, said GFD EMS Division Chief Phil King.

“You want to make sure the applicants are qualified,” King said.

Site plans for the new station call for a 8,500-square-foot fire station. Gilroy’s two current fire stations, Chestnut (Chestnut Street near 10th Street) and Las Animas (Wren Avenue), are 6,500 square feet and 5,600 square feet, respectively.

More than 80 percent of the funds used to build the Sunrise Station will come from fire impact fees collected from local developers during the past decade, the remaining will come from sewer impact fees also stored in the city’s Capital Improvement Budget, according to Bill Headley, the city’s facilities and parks development manager. The sewer impact fees will be used because a municipal water well is planned to be built behind the fire station.

Bozzo said the GFD’s administration team is currently working on a plan to present to City Council this fall suggesting a time frame for the full-staffing of the Sunrise Station.

“We’ve had some delays but Sunrise will get built out and eventually (fully) staffed,” Bozzo said. “I can tell you that we plan on meeting that deadline (April) all the way.”

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