Most of the funds come from FEMA; city kicks in $229K

Crescent City doesn't want its firefighters to suffer the same fate as those in Northridge during a 1994 Southern California earthquake.

The Crescent City Council on Monday gave approval to a $916,000 project, funded mostly by FEMA, to make the fire hall at 520 I St. more earthquake-resistant.

When the shaking started in Northridge nearly 20 years ago, firefighters narrowly escaped injury at Fire Station 70, but they were prevented from doing their job because the quake caused the apparatus doors to jam in the closed position.

"They were stuck in the facility," said Associate City Planner Eric Taylor. "They had to break their way out the back door of the building."

A $686,966 Hazard Mitigation Grant from FEMA will cover most of the seismic retrofit project, Taylor said. To qualify for the grant, the city was required to contribute $228,988.

The project will consist of adding a new foundation and new footings to better anchor the structure to the foundation, Taylor said. The building will be re-sheathed in plywood and workers will add a longer-lasting membrane roof.

The seismic retrofit will also include replacing the facility's four bay doors with two bay doors that have a higher clearance and are wider to allow for more maneuverability, Taylor said. A steel frame around the bay doors will also be installed.

"Really the retrofit is just to make the building seismically safe so when we have an earthquake we have some degree of confidence that we'll be able to get the equipment out of the door," said Crescent City Fire Chief Steve Wakefield said. "Basically what they're going to do is tear everything apart and then re-secure the structure by putting in plywood so it won't move."

Built in 1957, the fire hall's walls and roof lack a plywood lateral structure that would prevent the building from collapsing during a quake, Taylor said. There is very little anchoring the building to the foundation. And with almost nothing supporting them, a quake could render the fire hall's bay doors inoperable, he said.

"The biggest problem with the fire hall is that it has a substandard lateral system, which means the shell of the building is only supported by gypsum board, which is an interior kind of sheet rock," Taylor said. "What that means is in a seismic event, once we start to shake you get drift, the building starts to sway. The more drift, the weaker the structure becomes and basically the structure hits critical failure and will most likely collapse."

With the conceptual plans and environmental work nearly finished, Taylor said the next step is to put out a request for proposals for the engineering plans. Once those are finished, the city can seek a project contractor, he said. The city has three years to complete the project.

City Manager Eugene Palazzo said he would bring a project schedule to the Council by the end of the year.

Chief Wakefield said in preparing the conceptual designs for the project, Vanir Construction Management met with the president of the Crescent City Volunteer Firefighters Association, the assistant fire chief, two fire captains and a battalion chief.

The city also plans to apply for Community Development Block Grant funding to remodel the fire hall's second story to make it more accessible to the disabled, Wakefield said. Other desired improvements include having a room where firefighters can sleep, updating the building's electrical system and widening its kitchen, he said.

Wakefield added that once construction starts, the Fire Department's equipment will likely be moved to the fire station on Cooper Street.

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