But last week, things changed when firefighters moved into a new Fire Station Five, a $5.5 million showpiece of brick and steel that will withstand the worst of earthquakes. The old double-wide structure next door, which was easily shaken by Shoreline winds, will be demolished next week. Firefighters were supposed to have to endure their temporary station for only three years.
"It's like extreme make over, fire house edition," said fire engineer Noel Bernal on Tuesday.
A committee of firefighters helped design the new station, which includes living quarters upstairs with wood cabinets, glass-doored showers and tiled bathrooms — a far cry from the cheap furnishings in the double-wide, and "easy to clean," Bernal said.
"I don't want to bash on it, but it was a double-wide trailer," Bernal said. "It outlived its useful life five years ago," added fire engineer Don Graves about their former living quarters.
In the new building there are offices downstairs with a reception window to welcome the public, an exercise room, storage rooms and a workshop. Firefighters used to have to repair their water hoses elsewhere, but now there's a room just for that. "If something fails here, we have the ability to fix it here," Bernal said.
In the event of a major earthquake, firefighters say, the station was designed to be a place of refuge. Firefighters imagine an earthquake causing the Highway 101 overpasses to collapse, turning North Bayshore into an island. During the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, Mountain View's fire stations were used as refuges, with some of those arriving in need of medical help," Graves said.
"In the event of a major disaster the station becomes a refuge for people," he said. "People went to Fire Station Three because that was the only light on."
Because the station sits on a landfill known to emit methane gas, sensors and alarms are located in the living quarters to alert firefighters to the gas. Another design consideration was the "liquefaction" of the landfill, which isn't the most stable thing in an earthquake.
"Liquefaction is something the structural engineers looked at," said Terrel Tinkler, retired architecture and construction supervisor for McCrary Construction, which was putting on some final touches Tuesday. He said the steel frame, evident in the garage's large diagonal braces, would definitely hold up in an earthquake. The station's brick and steel shell will supposedly help resist flood damage, as city officials have discussed that potential problem in the area if climate change causes the bay's level to rise.
The station was built to be environmentally friendly to a LEED Silver standard, so it will use recycled water for the landscaping that has yet to be planted, has lots of natural light and construction materials that were purchased and shipped from less than 500 miles away.
Though a bit of a novelty, firefighters wouldn't have found the station complete without a brass fire pole for sliding down from the sleeping quarters, which shaves a few seconds off response times. Similarly, new sideways-collapsing doors on the garage can open in only seven seconds, Garret said. Fire truck drivers won't have to wonder whether a roll-up door is rolled up far enough to clear the truck.
The station houses three trucks, the department's reserve truck, fire engine number five, and the city's hazardous materials (HAZMAT) truck, which is a "giant tool box" that allows firefighters to respond to emergencies where unknown chemicals or gases are involved. Firefighters use the tools onboard to detect carbon monoxide leaks and block spilled chemicals from draining into the bay via storm drains, among other things.
In front of the station is the $67,000 sculpture the City Council approved, a product of the city's policy that all city buildings costing over $1 million have 1 percent of the budgeted cost go to public art. So there's a bronze statue of three geese in flight created by artist Vadim Goretsky, which some council members didn't like considering how pesky geese are at Shoreline Golf Links. There's also a bell from a Philadelphia church made in 1903 and a wind vane for the roof that Goretsky created.
The fire station project was first given a green light in 1998, but the dot-com bust of 2000 delayed the project. Once finally off the backburner, construction took just over a year to complete and came in under its $6.7 million budget, said fire department spokesperson Jaime Garrett.
"It's a pretty cool station — we're pretty excited to have it," Garrett said.