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FLORENCE : 2 Fire Stations Unite in $932,000 Building

October 30, 1994|ENRIQUE LAVIN

One fire station instead of two in your community doesn't seem like a good trade.

But for two area fire stations, the exchange is an upgrade. Last month, Stations No. 9 and 16 consolidated, moving into a new state-of-the-art building at 8010 Compton Ave.

"Ventilation wasn't all that great when you had six guys sleeping in a small station," said Paramedic Keith Smith, who was part of old No. 16's team on Holmes Street a few blocks from the new facility.

Now the firefighters enjoy central air conditioning and heating, and get their own quarters instead of sleeping in communal dorms.

Smith, a firefighter for almost six years, said the amenities of the new No. 16 have lifted the morale of his peers. "The difference is it's funner to work here."

The two-story building, which sits on a 9,500-square-foot lot, is roughly double the size of both of the older stations. With the sleeping quarters on the first floor and living area on the second floor, as well as an easy access to Compton Avenue, Station 16 will probably be used as a prototype for future stations in urban communities, said Steve Sherrill, staff chief deputy of the County Fire Dept.

"Lots (suitable for fire stations) are hard to come by and this design allows us to maximize usage," Sherrill said.

The consolidation won't mean a reduction in service, firefighters said. In fact, because of the unification, more equipment will be sent to an emergency site than before, Capt. Ernest Varela said.

No firefighters lost their jobs, and the new station has room for all the equipment at the previous stations. New No. 16 has three fire engines, including one that's on reserve, and one paramedic unit.

"So, now we have three pieces of equipment going to a response with nine men rather than just three from No. 9 or six men from No. 16," said Varela, a 14-year veteran who has been with No. 16 for five years.

The new No. 16 will serve the Firestone, Florence and Walnut Park communities as well as the west end of South Gate, areas that were divided between both stations.

"Putting the two facilities together is more cost-effective and we are able to better serve the community," Sherrill said.

The men of Fire Station 16 work 24-hour shifts 10 times a month. On an average day, the nine firefighters on duty answer 18 calls that include flooded houses or homes on fire.

This is the third fire station to wear No. 16 since 1924. The original station, a one-story brick bungalow, was located on 8500 Graham Ave. and is now a bar.

It is also the third building that firefighters from the now defunct Engine Co. 9 have moved to since 1929. In 1968 Station 9 moved from 7313 S. Compton Ave. just across the alley to 7116 S. Makee Ave.

By 1984, plans were under way for relocation and construction of Stations 9 and 16. Site considerations and county budget cuts delayed construction for almost a decade. In 1992, ground was broken for the $932,000 facility.

In the meantime, at least two groups are seeking to lease the unused properties. Huntington Park-based Mexican American Health and Educational Services Center is requesting that the county allow it to use one of the vacant facilities.

The health center is currently facing closure because of financial difficulties. Maria Vargas, founder and director of the 2-year-old center, has petitioned the Fire Department to lease Station 9 for $1 a year, Sherrill said.

"I realize they may have a need," Sherrill said. "We are considering their application. But we are bound by certain obligations. Normally we put these facilities up for auction."

Sherrill said Adams Ambulance Co., which serves the new station, is also interested in the property and is looking for a lease with an option to buy. The decision process will take at least two weeks, Sherrill said.

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