Newcastle firefighters return to station

Inspector OKs building for habitation, removes restriction tags
By: Andrew Westrope, Staff Writer
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NEWCASTLE – The Newcastle firefighters’ 19-month stay in a camper trailer ended on Friday.

A temporary, $300 fix on the Newcastle Fire Protection District fire station on Main Street convinced a Placer County inspector to remove its “yellow tag” designation on Friday morning, allowing firefighters to move back in after spending their nights in a trailer in the parking lot since June 2011. Though the station was never condemned, yellow tags posted in October meant the firefighters could retrieve equipment from the building but not sleep there. The trailer had served as sleeping quarters for more than a year prior to that.

Private contractors performed the work on Thursday according to the specs of a $3,600 engineering study that outlined a long-term plan for repairing the building, mandated by the county as a condition of approval for the temporary repairs.

Placer County building inspector Scot Andrews would not comment on whether or not he thinks the building is still a safety hazard, but he said the repairs, which consisted of new beams and lag bolts around the garage door, were a sufficient first step.

 “We don’t really consider these repairs. This is just a temporary shoring to get ready for the repairs, but I am satisfied with the temporary shoring,” he said. “You’re dealing with a 100-plus-year-old building, and you’re dealing with 2010 building codes, so the reality is, it probably would never be up to code. As far as being structurally sound, I would leave that up to the engineers to determine, and we are basically just the eyes and ears of an engineer. We put this in the hands of an engineer to come up with a fix. We verify that the fix is indeed what the engineer designed.”

Board chairman Dave Ward said the engineering plans from Roseville Design Group, Inc. included two more phases of repairs that should cost “considerably less than $50,000” and involve more beams and lag bolts, new footings, and aesthetic improvements.

“When we get on (better) financial footing, then we’re going to go in and patch all the stucco, redo all the overhangs, paint it, make it look like a fire station,” he said.

Ward added that once those repairs are complete, the board will begin looking for a property on which to build a new station.

Captain Wayne Hickok was “shocked” when he found out on Wednesday that a $300 job might get the firefighters back in the station, but he has no doubts about the security of the place.

“If it’s safe for my engine, it’s safe for me,” he said. “I’ve been here 29 years, so I’ve been hearing about a new station (for) over 15 years … Each board that we’ve had has had their tasks in front of them, and their hurdles, and I’m shocked that we’re back in the station, because I didn’t think we’d ever get back in here. It’s very shocking, actually.”

Now that the firefighters are back in the old station, Hickok said the board’s next priorities should be finishing the repairs and building a new one.

“They need somewhere that’s secure for us before they can move on, and it’s not in the travel trailer … and they’ve accomplished that,” he said. “I appreciate all they’ve done so far.”

Hauling mattresses and box springs out of the camper trailer just hours after hearing about the inspection, firefighters Andrey Obutkov and Chris de la Cruz said they were surprised and excited to be back in the station and “not at all” concerned about the safety of the building.

Fire engineer Matt Bowers agreed, but conceded that a new station is still a priority.

“I hope this is still considered temporary, until a new station gets built,” he said. “I strongly think that we need it.”

In the process of developing a viable budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, Ward said the board has already started cutting costs. The board has restricted use of fire trucks to emergency and training purposes only, meaning no errands or lunch trips, and will continue looking at cheaper phone, power and insurance plans. Ward said the board will also hold a presentation at its Feb. 14 meeting “to explain to people where the money went, what was done with it, prior to us (new board members) getting here.”

Two days after his appointment on Wednesday, new board member Isaak Egge said he was intrigued by the challenge of turning things around for the Newcastle fire district. Egge admitted his career has been focused on “non-profit management and fund development” and includes no experience in a public office or on a governing board, but he hopes his experience with grant writing will help solve the district’s financial woes.

“I think that we need to become a major player in terms of grant acquisition,” he said. “You’re certainly not guaranteed grants by just applying, but you have to be in it to win it. My intention would be to apply to any and all grants that are appropriate for the district’s operation.”