TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Tahoe City Public Utility District board members and staff donned hard hats and got a first peek at the near-completed Station 51 in Tahoe City on Friday morning.North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw conducted the tour at the project site on Fairway Drive. The facility should be move-in ready within the next two months, Whitelaw said.“We are obviously very excited,” he said. “The project has been in the making for five years.”The 21,000-square-foot, $5.9 million facility replaces the old Tahoe City station on Highway 28 near the Wye, which was designed for use by a volunteer force and ill-suited for a modern fire department, Whitelaw said.“It used to be, the alarm would go off and volunteers would lock up and run from their businesses and offices to respond to an emergency,” said Whitelaw. “That's not the way today's 24-hour paramedical professional teams operate.”
Whitelaw worked with Truckee-based architecture firm Ward-Young Architects to create a new station that will accommodate the physical size of modern fire equipment, the environmental requirements of the Lake Tahoe Basin, the climatic realities of the region and the general needs of his department.Ron Larkins, of Ward-Young Architects, was one of the principle architects. He has been involved with the design process of two other Tahoe-area fire stations.“The fire department is so important in our mountain region,” Larkins said. “Proper design can better the operation budget and increase the response time. That's the challenge in designing.”Station 51 boasts several hand-picked features. For example, in order to help keep thoroughfares clear of ice and snow, the walkways and driveways at Station 51 are hydroponically heated.Special drains have been installed in the 7,500-square-foot engine bay to capture and filter run-off from the equipment before it enters the municipal water system.An onsite store room keeps a pantry of medical supplies, and a specialized wet room — a wash station — is available to clean gurneys and equipment soiled with blood and other biohazards.
The firefighters' new living space is designed to be a comfortable home-away-from-home, Whitelaw said — gone are the days of co-ed bunk houses and community showers.Crew quarters include a gym, a full kitchen, individual lockers, private showers and single-bed rooms. And a special feature of the alarm system in the sleeping areas allows firefighters to be alerted not with a jarring and stressful noise, but with fade-in lights and audio.It's all a part of the kinder, gentler fire house, Whitelaw said.Perhaps most critical feature of Station 51, however, is the meeting room.“This is where area agencies go when bad things happen,” said Whitelaw.Specifically designed to be used to manage responses to large-scale emergencies, Whitelaw said the meeting room was built strong enough to withstand large earthquakes. The space is equipped with enough fiberoptic cable to allow representatives from many different agencies to sit in a room together — all at a desk and connected to Internet. Whitelaw received a $50,000 Homeland Security grant to cover a portion of the expenses for this room.The fire house was built on land leased to the fire district by the PUD for $1 a year for the next 60 years, with a possible extension of the lease for an additional 30 years.“Thanks to PUD board cooperativeness, we kept the taxpayers we both serve from having to go buy another piece of land,” Whitelaw said.