Three firefighters working the first full-time shift at Santa Maria’s newest fire station stared out from the garage Monday at the green, rolling hills across the street, remarking on what has to be the best scenic view of any firehouse around.
More than providing calming views, Santa Maria Fire Department officials expect that operating Fire Station No. 5 on a 24/7 schedule also will decrease engine response time, relieve the four other fire stations, and provide a good training ground for some of the department’s newest recruits.
Station No. 5, at 1607 E. Donovan Road, had been operating only at night since opening Sept. 8 because of budget limitation. That required Fire Station No. 4 to shut down at night so its crew could move to the northeast side of town.
A one-time federal grant and voter passage of Measure U in June made the change possible, along with the federal funds that paid for initial construction.
“We’re pretty excited. This is the only station east of Highway 101,” Fire Chief Dan Orr told Noozhawk on Monday.
The new station will take some burden off Station No. 3, which was handling about a third of the department’s 9,000 calls every year because its northern location was the closest.
Orr said Station No. 5 will move the department’s response time much closer its goal of arriving at every emergency call within five minutes 90 percent of the time. That figure has been closer to 53 percent, Orr added.
“It was the busiest station from Oxnard to Salinas. Five minutes is important to us for two reasons,” Orr said, explaining that a person is more likely to still be breathing within five minutes and a fire is less likely to have reached a level victims can’t survive.
Fire Capt. Mike Farmer walked around the station Monday as one of its full-timers, having transferred from Station No. 2.
The station has the exact design as the other firehouses, except its four bedrooms, living space and workout room are flipped, Farmer said.
“We go through so much training,” he said, noting a loss of down time. “The days of sitting in a recliner, those have come and gone 20 years ago. It’s a really nice facility.”
Firefighters Matt Luis and Victor Gutierrez were on hand Monday, rounding out the three-person shift.
Both said they were excited to add three people into the department’s daily rotation — boosting the total number of firefighters at any time to 15 – and to help take nine newly-hired firefighters under their wing.
“Lots of new faces; a little more manpower,” said Luis, a seven-year veteran of the department. “Three people doesn’t seem like a lot. (But) if it’s five minutes faster, that could be a life or death.”
Gutierrez, who’s been with the department 20 years, said an increase in firefighters and the new station also mean outside agencies won’t have to help out as much.
“If you have a major incident, you pretty much have more resources. Firefighter safety has improved,” Gutierrez said. “Having new blood is nice. You can relax a bit more. Now we’re able to do more training.”
New recruits are also useful for “new recipes,” Luis joked.