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New fire stations' fate up in the air

If a major earthquake hit the valley, Medford might be left with only one fire station.

“They would not collapse on our people, but whether we could function in them is another issue,” Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fish said.

Only Fire Station 6, built 15 years ago on Barnett Avenue, is designed to withstand a quake. The city has a total of five fire stations, four of which could be severely damaged in a quake, though they’ve been retrofitted to allow time for firefighters to flee the buildings.

A plan to build three new fire stations has been put on hold by the City Council because of a $3.4 million cost overrun.

Fish said his goal is to work with the architect and contractor to bring costs down to the $10.6 million budgeted for the project. The city has $32 million in bond proceeds to pay for new police and fire facilities.

Fish said the new stations would be built to the latest earthquake standards and would be designed as community centers in an emergency, offering a place for people to come and get water, take showers and provide a communications center.

After the City Council tabled construction of the fire stations Thursday night, Fish said it looks like the projects could be rebid at a later date to get better rates from subcontractors. He said some of the design features may be changed to bring the price down.

If he can’t find a way to cut $3.4 million, he said, he would prioritize which of the three fire stations should be replaced.

Fire Station 2, at the corner of Eighth and Lincoln streets in west Medford, is the most outdated and can’t fit some of the newer fire engines. Diesel fumes from the garage leak into the living quarters, which is not healthy for firefighters who already inhale smoke while doing their jobs.

“The rate of cancer in firefighters is skyrocketing,” he said.

Fish said replacing station 2 is probably at the top of his list. He said it would be a tough call between stations 3 and 4

Fire Station 4 on Table Rock Road is concrete block and would likely be severely damaged in an earthquake. Other stations have had some retrofits to keep them from falling down, but station 4 could become uninhabitable.

The station 4 area is also used for fire training exercises and part of the building effort would be to improve training opportunities.

Fire Station 3 is located at the roundabout on Highland Drive, which makes it more difficult for fire trucks to get in and out. By moving the station south on Highland, Fish said, it could improve response times slightly.

He said the proposed three new stations would be designed to improve flow and help firefighters roll out quicker, which would mean seconds could be shaved off response times.

Even Fire Station 6, the newest station in Medford, has its issues, despite being built just 15 years ago.

Some of the original flooring material is worn out and will be torn out. The original gutters weren’t the best design and leak at the seams, Fish said.

He said he hopes to avoid some of the cost-cutting issues in station 6 with the newer stations.

Councilor Dick Gordon said the city has had ongoing issues with station 6 over the years, and he hopes to avoid that situation with the design of the new fire houses.

He said that the main reason the council decided to embark on the projects was the poor condition of Fire Station 2 and the lack of adequate space for the city police department, which is now on the first floor of City Hall.

As discussions evolved with fire officials, the council decided to expand the project to include building new structures for stations 3 and 4, he said.

“We need to be sure that Fire Station 2 is done in this process even if we have to sacrifice another fire house,” Gordon said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

The garage of Medford's Fire Station 2 on Eighth Street is too small for all but three of the city's fleet of fire trucks. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell