New Rancho Santa Fe fire station nearing completion


By Joe Tash


A new fire station under construction in Fairbanks Ranch will be one of the safest buildings in the community due to strict earthquake standards imposed by the state.

The new station at 6424 El Apajo will replace the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District’s former Station No. 3, which was demolished last year. During construction, the area is being served from a temporary station housed in trailers across the street.

Construction on the new station began in June 2010, and district officials expect to open the new station in December or January.

The new, nearly 11,000-square-foot station replaces a 3,000-square-foot-facilty built in 1983. In 1986, California adopted the Essential Services Buildings Seismic Safety Act, which requires that public safety buildings such as fire stations be built 125 percent stronger than non-safety buildings, said Rancho Santa Fe fire Capt. Chris Galindo, project manager for the new fire station.

Because the new station is in a flood zone, construction crews had to put in 192 columns made of compressed rock, three feet each in diameter and 40 feet tall, to stabilize the ground beneath the building, said Galindo.

“You definitely want that in time of emergency to make sure our apparatus can get out (of the building),” said Rancho Santa Fe Fire Chief Tony Michel.

The new station also includes an emergency generator and diesel fuel tanks, to ensure that the station and its fire trucks can function in an earthquake or other disaster, Michel said.

Jim Ashcraft, president of the fire district’s board of directors, estimated that with all contingencies included, the total cost of the new station will be about $4.7 million.

Michel and Ashcraft said 75 percent of the money for the station will come from fees charged to developers for projects within the district, while the remaining 25 percent will come from the district’s general fund, generated primarily from property tax revenue.

The building was designed to fit in with the surrounding community, said Michel, and includes cut stone on its outer façade, along with ornamentation that appears to be made of painted wood but is in fact lightweight foam.

While he has heard some comments about the size of the building, Michel said the new station was designed as a two-story structure so that fire trucks and ambulances can exit and enter safely and efficiently.

Because the old station had only one driveway for entry and exit, firefighters had to stop traffic on El Apajo and back the fire trucks into the station each time they returned from a call. The new building has two driveways, so trucks can pull into the building and out again, without having to shift into reverse.

Living quarters, a kitchen, dining room and a workout area were built on the second floor, above the apparatus bay where the rigs are kept. The new station will have one old-fashioned component — a brass fire pole will be installed, so firefighters can quickly drop down from their living quarters to the equipment bay when they get an emergency call.

“Everything’s about response time. In the case of a stroke, every second is important,” Ashcraft said.

In order to expand the footprint of the old station, the district purchased a half-acre of land from a next-door neighbor to bring the entire parcel to .83 of an acre, said Galindo.

The old fire station was not only built before the current state earthquake standards were enacted, but it had numerous problems such as dry rot and termite infestation, officials said, which made it more cost-effective to tear it down and build a new station.

Initially, the station will house a three-person engine company, which includes three three-person crews. The station has room to bring in an additional truck, or possibly an ambulance, Michel said.

With the new station on line, the district will have four fire stations in operation to cover its 38-square-mile territory, which includes Rancho Santa Fe, Fairbanks Ranch, 4S Ranch, The Crosby, Cielo and other communities.

With the completion of the new station, the district now has all of its physical structures in place to serve its population of 28,000 residents for the next 50 to 60 years, and the district won’t face any new capital costs for “a long time,” Ashcraft said.