San Francisco firefighters run through rescue operations at the fire department’s Treasure Island Training Center, which is in danger of being lost by 2024 to development on the island. (Courtesy San Francisco Fire Department)

SFFD Treasure Island training facility could be rescued

The San Francisco Fire Department’s training facility on Treasure Island is living on borrowed time — but it could be spared by the developers responsible for transforming the island into homes, hotels and retail and office spaces.

The Treasure Island Training Center is slated to be replaced with parkland by 2024, when development on the island is scheduled for completion.

That’s unless developers Lennar Corporation, Kenwood Investments and Wilson Meany alter their long-standing plans with The City’s Treasure Island Development Authority by including the fire training facility.

Robert Beck, head of the Treasure Island Development Authority, said at the Fire Commission on Wednesday the city agency is “open to exploring” the idea of keeping a training center on the island. David Satterfield, a representative of the developers, said they had not yet heard about the matter and declined to comment Thursday.

The Treasure Island facility is unique with structures that set aflame without burning to the ground. It’s also used by agencies across the Bay Area. However, the Fire Department has long known of its need for a new facility, since the last major renovation was 25 years ago.

“I don’t think we can afford to lose a training facility as valuable as the one we have,” Fire Commission President Andrea Evans said.

The Fire Commission was reviewing its options Wednesday because of a Civil Grand Jury inquiry into the department which began in July. That inquiry reminded officials the Treasure Island facility would be closed and urged the department to find a solution.

“Time is of the essence, something has to be done,” said Commissioner Francee Covington. “Our plight is dire and we need immediate attention.”

If the training facility were allowed to stay on Treasure Island, it would need upgrades to include Emergency Medical Services training and would replace the fire department’s other training center in the Mission, said Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi.

“There’s nobody at City Hall that doesn’t know that this is a need,” Lombardi told fire commissioners.

A new training center has been on The City’s Capital Budget, first as an emerging project and then deferred, since 2006. “It’s been there for 10 years and now we have a $132 million price tag on it,” he said.

But changes to the planned redevelopment at Treasure Island, in the works since 1994 and already through its environmental review process without anticipating a training facility on the island, would be an “uphill battle,” Lombardi said.

“All of these reports and tests were done already assuming there would be no training facility,” Lombardi said. “We were never part of this plan.” Even with the consent of developers, the environmental and other extensive reviews would have to be modified to include the facility, Lombardi said.

The Fire Department thus far has voiced few options other than to stay on Treasure Island. While replacing or upgrading the facility on the island seemed the most feasible option for commissioners Wednesday, the 8-acre facility could be moved to The City or Bay Area.

“There’s 300 acres [of parklands on Treasure Island] which is hard to find in San Francisco,” Lombardi said, noting the state of The City’s real estate market. “Even if we had the money to move to San Francisco I don’t think it’s going to be that easy — there’s not that many eight-acre sites in San Francisco.”

Lombardi said there are some sites in The City’s southeast that could fit the bill.

On top of the space issue, and $132 million funding considerations for a state-of-the-art facility, there’s also the fact that vegetable smoke billows out of the facility from propane tanks on the regular. The propane would be unsafe for use in densely packed areas, officials said.

Covington said she was discouraged by the overall situation.

“We are very late to the party,” she said of the Treasure Island redevelopment plans. “They have the party hats on and the confetti’s coming out, and we’re not there.”

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