Fire station prepares for migration to Baylands

With Palo Alto looking to rebuild Rinconada Park station, City Council approves temporary station on Geng Road

After serving the neighborhoods around Rinconada Park for more than 50 years, Fire Station 3 is preparing for a brief migration, followed by a rebirth.

Under a plan that the City Council approved Monday night, the cramped and obsolete fire station will soon be shut down, demolished and rebuilt to modern standards at its location on Embarcadero Road. During the roughly 18 months of construction, a temporary station would be built on Geng Road, a property near the Baylands that until recently was occupied by the city's trash hauler, GreenWaste of Palo Alto.

The council voted 8-1, with Councilman Cory Wolbach dissenting, to accept the recommendation from the Palo Alto Fire Department and to choose the Geng Road site over several others that are closer to Rinconada but, for various reasons, present their own obstacles. The most promising alternative, a city-owned parcel at 1142-1146 Middlefield Road, was scratched after significant neighborhood opposition, with area residents pointing to the traffic and noise impacts of the new building and the trees that would have to be removed. Other options, including the tennis courts at Rinconada Park and the Rinconada Library parking lot, were similarly scrapped, in anticipation of public opposition.

There is one obvious drawback to placing the temporary station on the other side of U.S. Highway 101: an expected delay in response time, particularly during busy commute hours. To account for the delays, the fire department plans to station an engine from Rinconada at the Alma Street fire station during the day and then relocate it to Geng Road after 7 p.m.

This, according to the fire department analysis, would improve response time in downtown and on the Stanford University campus. At the same time, the move would roughly increase by about 60 seconds the time it would take to respond to the Station 3 area.

Even with the delay, the move will allow the city to meet its goal of responding to a call within eight minutes 90 percent of the time, Fire Chief Eric Nickel told the council Monday.

“The two hardest things to do is get a fire station into a neighborhood and get a fire station out of a neighborhood,” said Nickel, who is now trying to do both.

Nickel said that ideally he would have liked to remain in the immediate area but given the constraints, the department had few choices.

While Wolbach said he was concerned that the city didn't spend enough time considering the other options, most notably the tennis courts, other council members agreed that the Geng Road location is a solid compromise in the interim.

“This seems to be the best answer,” Councilwoman Liz Kniss said of the temporary station, which will cost the city about $140,000 to construct.

Councilman Marc Berman, who in his pre-council days served on the Infrastructure Blue Ribbon Committee, agreed with Kniss. His committee had recommended replacing the two fire stations (along with the animal shelter and the police headquarters) in a 2011 report that surveyed the city's infrastructure needs and considered ways to fund them (after the report, the council raised the city's hotel-tax rate and devoted the increased revenue to infrastructure).

The infrastructure report lists the two fire stations -- Station 3 at Rinconada and Station 4 at Mitchell Park -- among those city facilities that “have been allowed to fall below current standards of safety, capacity and functionality.”

Work on the Mitchell Park station is expected to begin in 2018, after the new Rinconada station is up.

In addition to being vulnerable to earthquakes, these two fire stations “have insufficient space to safely house the larger engines needed to accommodate developments in firefighting, rescue operations, and emergency medical response,” according to the infrastructure report. Both stations, the report noted, surveyed by a consultant in 2005 and deemed to have “extensive structural, code, and operational deficiencies.”

“Modern engines now fill the apparatus bays, leaving very little room for personnel to maneuver to the sides and rear,” the report states. “Living quarters for fire personnel in these one-story buildings are not adequately separated from hazardous fumes. Storage and shop space is insufficient for supplies and equipment, nor is there adequate space for drying hoses after use.”

Like most of his colleagues, Berman was keen to get on with the project as soon possible rather than spend time on assessing other locations for a new fire station, a process that would probably be controversial and would inevitably take a long time.

“We don't fast track community outreach in Palo Alto,” Berman said. “That never ends well. We can't do that. We do need a fire station as quickly as possible.”

Councilman Greg Scharff also said that it's time to move ahead. Proposing a more proximate location, such as the tennis courts, would inevitably bring heavy opposition, he said.

“If I had a single-family home there and you were taking away my tennis courts and parkland and building a temporary fire station, I think I'd be fairly upset,” Scharff said.

After being reassured by fire officials that the response time wouldn't dip too precipitously, Scharff said he was satisfied with the decision to relocate the Rinconada station to Geng Road.

“I think far too often things come to the council and we don't make a decision; we kick the can down the road and things don't happen,” Scharff said. “And I think it's important we move forward with this fire station expeditiously.”


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57 people like this
Posted by The Aristocrat
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 6:50 am

Chief Nickel's talk about response times ring hollow while his deputy chief of operations has a history of taking out a Palo Alto fire engine and crew on joy rides behind his back as a political stunt to promote her position as the head of her neighborhood association in Mountain View. Seconds do count in responding to fire and medical emergencies. How many lives were put into danger that day? What does it say of the deputy chief's judgement? The City has already hired an outside investigator and run up a huge bill as the union pushes back. Where's the talk about response times from the union as they do? Why are the taxpayers forced to foot the bill? The Fire Department doesn't want the public to know this goes on, so they are keeping a tight lid on it. There needs to be more accountability of the Fire Department and the operational status of it's emergency vehicles. How does an on-call engine with full crew go missing and unaccounted for? Aren't service and status logs kept? Who is accountable for this state of affairs? Of course the Fire Department only rolls out issues of response times when it threatens salaries and perks or to justify what they want in any argument. At any other time, the Fire Department has it's toys and does what it likes with them.

54 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 18, 2016 at 8:55 am

Any Flood, Earthquake or disaster closing the overpass would prevent the Fire Dept. Emergency vehicles from leaving that side of 101.

2 people like this
Posted by Be Positive
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 18, 2016 at 9:20 am

Be Positive is a registered user.

Why does the City own the land at 1142-1146 Middlefield? And if we own that land, why haven't we built something on it like affordable housing?

52 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2016 at 10:57 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

Really? We can't sacrifice a few tennis courts for a few months? There may be other considerations here, but that one is pure nonsense.

2 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 18, 2016 at 11:18 am


Redo Station 5 next Please!

45 people like this
Posted by Fed Up
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2016 at 4:54 pm

I echo the comments of @The Aristocrat.

How can Nickels talk of response times while his deputy chief commandeers a fire engine and drives it through her Mountain View neighborhood and jeopardizes the engine crew's response time? This is the same neighborhood where the deputy chief parks her fire department vehicle day and night on our private streets where parking is extremely scarce and while her driveway sits empty. When neighbors complained to the city all we heard was the sound of crickets with the chief saying he doesn't want to get involved in a neighborhood dispute. Wow. Great display of professional ethics What about common decency and the respect for private property? If a Mountain View fire vehicle was parked in front of the homes of private citizens in Palo Alto the citizenry would be out with pitch forks and torches. The chief's excuse does nothing more than justify an abuse of power and sense of entitlement.

51 people like this
Posted by Joyridingcostspaloalto
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 18, 2016 at 5:19 pm

The fact the city has appointed a costly external investigator from a Sacramento law firm specializing in public employee abuses of power tells me that there is much more to the issue of his deputy chief's actions and performance in relation to endangering department response times and abuse of department personnel and equipment. It seems that where there is smoke, there is definitely a fire in this instance. How much is this investigation of a senior fire official costing taxpayers?

42 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2016 at 7:24 am

The fire union only cares about one thing-their salaries and overtime.

8 people like this
Posted by I Need To Know
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 19, 2016 at 7:40 am

So some people are not happy about a Palo Alto fire truck being in Mt View at a political event. Tell me what's the difference between this and seeing a Palo Alto fire truck shopping in the cities of Mt View and Menlo Park?

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2016 at 11:18 am

Chief Nickel certainly raised a chuckle from the audience with his statement about the two hardest things to do in the Fire Station business. Sums up many of the conundrums faced by our fair city.

44 people like this
Posted by The Aristocrat
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 12:01 pm

@I Need to Know

The difference is that the visit is logged, authorized and necessary and serves the purpose of maintaining readiness and response times. There was no such political event either. It was an unauthorized stunt and abuse of authority and resources by a senior fire official showing poor judgement. Besides, the Mountain View Fire Department had jurisdiction, not Palo Alto. Make sense?

Fire department resources are supposed to be dedicated to saving lives and not advancing personal agendas or favors. While I understand your confusion and false equivalency knowing little about it, the incidents were deemed serious enough to open an investigation costing the city tens of thousand of dollars. That's the hardly purpose or the price tag shopping trip by a fire crew to Safeway.


Chief Nickel is compensated very well to make tough decisions. However, if the specter of delayed response times are what are always trotted out to bring more money or equipment in to the Fire Department or for the Union to get their way, then why all of a sudden is an increase in response times acceptable by temporarily moving the engine to the other side of the 101? [Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Give up
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 19, 2016 at 10:03 pm

It is amazing how less than a handful of people can vent in so many forums and bad mouth some of the nicest people you will ever meet - guys get a life be nice and the world will be a much better place for everyone. Dear Fed up and gang most of MV and Los Altos already know who you are - leave Palo Alto alone :) Palo Alto folks a HOA board was recalled by an overwhelming majority - the members of that board continue to harass members of the community in as many ways they can find - there is no fire! Our Firefighters have lost their lives protecting us - let's support them and stop this pettiness.

12 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2016 at 11:18 am

I don't see how an HOA feud justifies our tax payer funded fire vehicles being used for falsely declared purposes.
I don't care about Mountain View feuds, I care about safety and how my tax dollars are being used, and fire officials have to get serious and respect the rules. I don't think anyone in Palo Alto wants to see response times increased while paying for our vehicles to be taken on rides that are not approved by the dept, nor logged properly.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 20, 2016 at 11:24 am

I call multiple-names, and up-arrowing your own post.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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