Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA/McKINLEYVILLE – Arcata Fire’s long-planned Sunset-area fire station is not to be.
Originally planned for 11th and M streets and then re-sited on the future Foster Avenue extension south of Sunset Avenue, the project was the subject of many fundraising events by the Arcata Volunteer Fire Department, which is the The Arcata Fire Protection District’s (AFPD) civilian wing.
But last week, Arcata Fire announced its decision to instead work with what it has. Following extensive consultations with Greenway partners planners, the AFPT will modernize and expand its current facilities in Arcata and McKinleyville to meet its operational needs into the future.
The Sunset-area spot had previously been billed as an ideal place for a new main station, located at the “centroid” of Arcata’s emergency response needs.
But recent studies indicate otherwise. Color-coded data visualizations (see above) of calls for service over the past several years in Arcata and McKinleyville show existing facilities right where they need to be in terms of minimizing response times to frequently-accessed locations.
Arcata Fire Chief Desmond Cowan said that a year or so ago, professional planners Greenway Partners were hired by the volunteers to review the department’s longstanding plans and by the department itself to help develop a new strategic plan, something Arcata Fire has never had.
A systematic consultation followed, with community members, staff, career and volunteer members, boardmembers and other stakeholders consulted.
“One of the things that came up was that we really need to review all of our current locations relative to current and future needs,” Cowan said. “As that went about, it became apparent that the other locations we have are ideally suited for our needs now and into the future. Those data sets really tell you a story.”
Factored into the location equation were incident locations, response times, hazards, what’s at risk and property valuations, among other data.
The result in Arcata was a huge red blot with the department’s present station at its center.
“We refer to it as a ‘volcano’ – a volcano of activity,” Cowan said. “The irony is, our downtown station gives up the fastest response time.”
As for the Sunset location, Cowan said, “It was cost-prohibitive and the coverage wasn’t there.”
A 10-member Facilities Task Force composed of various department personnel – boardmembers, officers, volunteers and career members – all reached the same conclusion. Namely, that building on existing facilities made the most sense.
“These are goals that are achievable now,” Cowan said. “No loans, no taxes, no bond measures.”
The department will use the $2.4 million it had built up over the years to fund the upgrades. Those have yet to be defined. Design-oriented meetings begin this week at the Greenway Building.
Cowan anticipates that the proposed modifications to the downtown Arcata station will not unsettle historic preservationists, since the building’s footprint will not be changed.
While today’s Brobdingnagian fire trucks are a “tight fit” in the 1940s-vintage bays at the main station, Cowan said they will work.
Additional room for equipment at the Arcata station may be freed up by the planned move of the department’s administrative offices to the McKinleyville station. That will not affect response times, since the Arcata station is now staffed around the clock.
One of the planned upgrades to the Arcata station involves improving the living quarters in which duty crews now stay.
The now-abandoned Sunset station was to include a regional training facility, but Cowan said that was “not a primary focus.” He said the department could continue use of the Mad River station for training.
Volunteer President Dave White stated, “I’m pleased that the Volunteer membership has worked together with the Fire District administration and Board to identify the most suitable locations for providing fire protection for our communities.”
“This decision was simply about cost and coverage,” Cowan said. “But it was also about finding the best solutions for all affected. We’re grateful for the support of volunteers, staff and Board, many of whom worked on this project for years. It is with their efforts that this long process will reach a successful conclusion.”
Cowan and White both expressed thanks to Greenway Partners, the consultant hired to lead a strategic planning process for the Arcata Fire. Cowan said, “Greenway helped us identify this outcome as the best possible utilization of our combined resources and needs.”
All in all, Cowan said, “This is an excellent plan that provides the best service for the community.”
The facilities modernization and expansion project is expected to begin immediately. Greenway Partners will oversee design and construction of the renovations.
The project is funded by monies received from private donors, bequests and through the fundraising efforts of the Volunteers, service groups and the community.
The Arcata Volunteer Fire Department, established in 1884, conducts fundraisers, represents working and retired volunteer firefighters, and provides the career staff of the Arcata Fire Protection District with facilities for housing, administration and equipment.
The Arcata Fire Protection District is the emergency response agency that serves the Arcata, Manila, Bayside and McKinleyville areas. Both organizations work in tandem to provide the region with fire protection services.