San Mateo to retrofit fire stations

San Mateo will upgrade two fire stations that do not meet current earthquake standards, despite a shortage in the funds that were supposed to foot the bill.

Last night, the City Council approved the razing and rebuilding of Fire Stations 24, at 319 S. Humboldt St., and 23, at 31 27th Avenue, the third and fourth in a set of six San Mateo stations slated for improvements. When Battalion Chief Mike Borean and others first began investigating the stations 10 years ago, they found that none met current standards for an “essential services facility,” the standard that in theory governs whether engines will be out the door helping people or buried in lumber or rubble when the Big One hits.

“After a four-hundred year event, the station has to be operational within one hour,” Borean said. “We’re held to a much higher standard than your typical construction.”

San Mateo voters approved a ballot measure in 1998 that placed two cents from its hotel room tax toward upgrades of fire and police stations. Station 21 was retrofitted and 26 was built through the tax, but a decline in hotel revenues has meant a lag in completing other projects, according to Community Development Director Bob Beyer.

Tax receipts fell from $1.1 million annually in 2000 to $568,000 in the 2003-04 fiscal year, and have only rebounded by $200,000 since.

A $3 million rebuilding of Station 24 is the first priority because it is built on mud, Borean said. The city is considering whether it wants to rebuild that station on the current site or relocate east of Highway 101. Station 23, where the department hopes to place administrative offices, comes next. Both also must be modified to meet the needs of modern stations.

The move will whittle down the more than 10 fire stations on the Bay side of San Mateo County that do not meet current seismic standards. Some fire departments, such as South San Francisco, have already rebuilt or retrofitted all their stations, whilesome, such as San Bruno, have done none. Money is usually a factor, fire officials said.

County Office of Emergency Services Director John Quinlan said the lack of comprehensive retrofits does not bother him.

“As soon as they [fire departments] get a shaker, all the doors go up and they’re outside. They’re great about it,” he said. “It’s mainly a life safety issue. The functionality of a building is important, but you can’t count on it.”

kwilliamson@examiner.com

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