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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 8th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 10 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 10

Lompoc's main fire station faces structural, budget issues

By ZAC EZZONE

Firefighters with the city of Lompoc are working 24-hour shifts in a fire station that may not be able to withstand an earthquake. The fire department’s most recent attempt to fix this problem was rejected earlier this year.

In March, the department was informed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied a grant application to fund retrofitting the building to meet earthquake standards. Additionally, City Manager Jim Throop said there probably won’t be money in the 2019-21 biennial budget to fund the project.

“If we’re taking the route of reducing budgets, then there’s nothing we can do [about the station],” Throop said.

The city is staring down an estimated $3.6 million deficit over its next two fiscal years. At a budget workshop meeting on April 17, city staff presented the City Council with two ways to make up this deficit: a sales tax measure that would need to be approved by voters, or budget cuts. The majority of the council didn’t support a sales tax measure.

Lompoc has known about Fire Station No. 1’s structural deficiencies for at least the last five years. In 2014, the city hired the Santa Barbara-based engineering firm Ehlen Spiess & Haight Inc. to complete a seismic evaluation of the station. According to the firm’s report, the facility would probably sustain significant damage during an earthquake.

“In our opinion, the building is very likely to be partially or completely non-functional as a fire station if subjected to current building code design level earthquake forces,” the report states.

The report cites numerous issues that limit the building’s ability to withstand an earthquake; however, it states that the biggest concerns relate to how the building’s roofs are connected to its walls.

“Although we have identified many potential deficiencies in the seismic force-resisting system, the most serious is the deficient connections of the wood-framed roofs … to the masonry walls in all parts of the facility,” the report states.

Firefighters, work, eat, and sleep at the station during their 24-hour shifts. Lompoc Firefighters Union President Anthony Hudley said concerns about spending so much time in a fire station with these structural issues weigh on the minds of the firefighters.

“Firefighters shouldn’t have to work like this—they show up ready to go, and then you walk into a building that’s seismically unsafe,” Hudley said. “Everybody’s worried about us being able to provide service to everybody else, but what about us?”

The building’s deficiencies could also cause problems for the entire city if the building caved in and trapped people and gear during an earthquake, Fire Chief Gerald Kuras said. This would limit the department’s ability to respond and assist residents during a disaster.

Two years after receiving the seismic evaluation, the fire department applied for grant funding through FEMA’s Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program to address the issues raised in the report. According to the grant application, the total retrofit was projected to cost about $3.8 million. The city requested $2.8 million from FEMA and planned on covering the rest itself.

Three years after applying for the grant, a representative with the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) told the department that FEMA denied the application, according to an email exchange obtained by the Sun.

“FEMA determined that the project is ineligible because it is neither feasible nor effective as a long-term solution,” Cal OES Hazard Mitigation Grant Specialist Shafeel Koya said in an email.

After this rejection, Kuras said the department began looking into other grant opportunities. Based on the reasoning behind FEMA’s denial, he believes the best solution is to demolish the station and build a new one.

Throop agrees that the city should replace the station rather than putting more money into the existing facility, given how much retrofitting would cost. Based on his estimates, a new station would run about $8 million, which is a little more than double the estimated cost of the retrofitting.

Finding the money to do either will be a challenge. With FEMA rejecting the fire department’s grant application and the limited funding available in the city’s 2019-21 biennial budget, it’s unclear when the building’s issues will be addressed. Union President Hudley said he knows the city is financially restricted, but he believes the department’s firefighters would feel better working in the station if the city identified a path forward.

“I get it’s not a quick fix, but if there’s a plan, then we can operate with that,” Hudley said.

Staff Writer Zac Ezzone can be reached at zezzone@santamaria.com.




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