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SEAL BEACH : Naval Base May Cut Fire Engine, 5 Jobs

Orange County Focus

August 13, 1994|SHELBY GRAD

Some firefighters at the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station said a proposal to reduce the size of the base's Fire Department could compromise safety.

A team of Navy officials is scheduled to arrive in Seal Beach next week to help determine whether Fire Department staffing should be reduced from two fire engines to one. Such a cut would force the layoffs of five of the department's 20 firefighters.

Matthew Montoya, one of the firefighters scheduled for layoff, said the proposed cutbacks would reduce the department's ability to respond to emergencies at the 5,000-acre base where munitions are stored, repaired and transported on and off Navy ships.

Having one fire engine would restrict the department's ability to help with mutual aid calls in neighboring cities and would prevent firefighters from responding to more than one call at a time on the sprawling base, Montoya said.

The idea of reducing fire personnel surfaced more than a year ago when the Naval Facilities Engineering Command conducted a survey of the Fire Department.

Using a complex formula that considered fire risk, the kinds of weapons stored at the base and other factors, the engineering command concluded that the Fire Department could be reduced to one engine without jeopardizing safety, said Richard Williamson, base public information officer.

The recommendation was passed along to weapons station Cmdr. Joel Steadley, who will make the final decision on the cuts.

Steadley then asked base Fire Chief L.J. Bach to respond to the engineering command report. Bach prepared a report that advised Steadley against making the cuts until more studies are conducted.

Bach said in an interview this week that a major disaster like an earthquake could leave the base isolated for several days, making the Fire Department responsible for responding to all emergencies. He noted that the Newport-Inglewood fault runs through the base.

He also said that several buildings on the base do not have fire sprinklers. Another potential hazard is the former Rockwell/NASA buildings once used to build moon rockets. These structures have open bays that would allow flames and smoke to spread quickly.

Two fire engines would be helpful in responding to emergencies at the Anaheim Bay piers because one engine could be used to pump sea water, Bach said.

Having one engine also would limit his department's ability to handle emergencies off the base that involve trains and trucks carrying Navy munitions, he added.

Based on Bach's report, Steadley asked for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command to conduct a second study of the Fire Department. That study will begin this week.

Williamson and Bach said there is a good chance the command might make a different recommendation this time around because inspectors now use a more specific criteria.

The new criteria takes into account the amount of water pressure from fire hydrants and whether major buildings have fire sprinklers, Williamson said.

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