The Orange County Fire Authority proposes $890,000 to improve nine buildings.
By KELSEY KLOSS / FOR THE REGISTER
SANTA ANA – It’s nearly noon at Fire Station 75, and the firefighters still haven’t showered. The kitchen flooded earlier when the building’s original cast iron angle stops exploded and forced the station, built more than half a century ago, to turn off its water. One firefighter says the plumber went to a store to get the replacement part.
Or, he went to a museum, another jokes.
The aging building is one of the nine Santa Ana fire stations that will collectively receive $890,000 for capital improvements if the city approves an Orange County Fire Authority plan Nov. 18. The renovations would fix issues like broken appliances, windows that don’t close and leaks that cause mold, and would increase dorm privacy.
“These guys have been doing this for years, living like this,” said OCFA Capt. Paul Satras. “They’re here 24/7, and in very difficult living conditions.”
The authority took over the Santa Ana Fire Department in April 2012 and allocates an annual $15,000 per station for general maintenance, such as replacing air filters and cleaning carpets. But it’s not enough to improve the facilities, which are constantly in use, Satras said.
After each station was formally inspected, only Fire Station 70 on Old Grand Street was found to be exempt from improvements. The stations will hold an additional $348,000 in exterior improvements, such as new roofing, as long-term projects apart from the capital improvement plan, Division Chief Scott Brown said.
Although the firefighters have done some repairs themselves, the stations need major renovations for larger fixes and legal requirements, Brown said.
“Our firefighters were pretty resourceful and did their own projects, with everything from custom cabinetry to other improvements,” Brown said. “But there are also a number of requirements for access for the public by the Americans with Disabilities Act that certainly challenges older facilities.”
The OCFA general maintenance funds also don’t cover smaller repairs, such as the broken pilot lights in Fire Station 74’s kitchen griddle, which requires two people to light for cooking, said firefighter paramedic Darryl Reames.
“If you try and do it by yourself, you’re liable to get your hand caught,” Reames said. “And the gas is just running sometimes, so if that accidentally gets hit, it’s also a danger. But nobody wants to go eat fast food, so we’re trying to cook healthier things here.”
Some stations have tried modifying living quarters for more privacy, both for men and women. At Fire Station 74 on Broadway Avenue, firefighters hung rods with shower curtains around their beds. At Fire Station 72 on Fourth Street, walls and doors were installed around each of the four beds last week.
And at Fire Station 75 on Walnut Street, the truck captain lends his private dorm, with an attached private shower and toilet, to any visiting woman firefighter. Although there is only one woman firefighter in Santa Ana, others from different cities temporarily work shifts at the city’s stations when needed. The station’s other bathroom hosts what the firefighters call a typical gang shower, a row of four unenclosed showerheads in a communal room.
The emphasis on privacy did not exist in fire stations before the 1990s, when the field became more diverse and regulations became stricter, said Satras, who’s been in the force for 25 years.
“That’s the way I grew up, with gang showers and open dorms,” Satras said. “I think it created unity, and in this type of organization we have, that’s a big deal.”
And although those changes didn’t detriment the firefighter lifestyle, it changed it, Satras said.
“That whole camaraderie thing, it’s up to the company officer to make sure they have that with their crew,” Satras said. “But this does, I believe, damper it a little bit. Now everybody’s doing their own thing.”
If the plan is approved, renovations will begin the first quarter of 2014, and are scheduled to be completed within the year.