Rancho Santa Fe firefighters ready for Station 3 rebuild

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District hopes to start rebuilding Station 3 on El Apajo Road in the next few months. Because land is scarce in Rancho Santa Fe, the district is taking the same course as the Rancho Santa Fe School District in deciding to improve on what they already have.

“I’ve worked here long enough to see a fire station built and torn down within a career,” Engineer Phil Pieper said of the 26-year-old station. “And we were pretty excited when this one first opened, but we just kind of outgrew it.”

“It’s like moving into a new house,” Captain Mark Richards said.

The current 2,800-square-foot, single-story station will be transformed into a 10,000-square-foot, two-story building. During construction, the station staff will operate out of two trailers behind Horizon Church. “Response times won’t be impacted,” Richard said.

The $5 million cost for the new station will come from the county’s fire mitigation fee system. The system, which provides fire districts with funds to add infrastructure, was used to build Station 1 on El Fuego and Station 2 in 4S Ranch.

Station 3 was built in 1984 and is no longer up to earthquake safety standards.

Richards said a quick peek around the station would also reveal why an upgrade is needed for personnel.

“We’re pretty crowded in here,” Richards said.

The firefighters’ living space melts into their kitchen--the lounge’s easy chairs rub against the kitchen table chairs. A stationary bike and stair-climber are also crammed into the longue between big screen TVs. Not they have much time to lounge, Richards said, but when the crew is in the room together, it can get pretty noisy.

Their bedrooms are not much bigger, with barely enough space for the beds, firefighter and paramedic Nick Chapin said. Pieper is 6-foot 4-inches tall and when he’s in the bed he can touch both sides of the room. He had to be careful when he gets up not to knock the TV off the small shelf over his bed.

The truck bay is where they really need space. Pieper said he can’t work on the truck without having to open the garage door. The new station will have a pull-through garage--currently the firefighters said they have to back their truck into their garage, which can be a challenge on the busy, one lane El Apajo with traffic from three nearby schools, two churches, a shopping center and the Helen Woodward Animal Center.

The new station’s gym will also be an upgrade, Richards said.

Right now the station only has room for an engine and a brush rig but the larger garage would allow them to get a truck with aerial capabilities.

“A lot of the younger guys think that would be awesome,” Chapin said.

Pieper said the Witch Creek Fire in 2007 has taught homeowners to be more pro-active with their brush management.

“It showed how important fire prevention is,” Pieper said, noting that more and more residents understand that it’s their responsibility to clean up the vegetation surrounding their property.