In the absence of a fire station to call its own, a wildfire disaster drill held in Browns Valley Wednesday morning was particularly valuable.
The city and county practiced evacuating residents at the western edge of Browns Valley, which is a long haul from the nearest fire station in downtown.
Because the city has inadequate funds, the site planned for a new westside fire station at 3001 Browns Valley Road sits empty and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. The city bought the lot in 2008 using developer fire mitigation.
City Manager Mike Parness said it is unclear when the city could construct and staff a fifth fire station to serve Browns Valley where emergency response times are less than optimal.
“It’s on the list of things that need to be addressed,” Parness said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to prioritize it. We don’t have any money.”
For the first time in a decade, the city expects to be in a positive budget position in 2012-13, anticipating revenues will be $100,000 above expenses. But that turnaround does not mean the city is ready to pay for the station.
“Building it isn’t an issue,” said Parness, who estimated a station could be built and equipped for about $4 million to $5 million using capital improvement project dollars. In 2008, the City Council adopted a Fire and Paramedic Development fee to fund the construction of the station and equip it for fire and paramedic services.
The difficulty is finding the money to pay for the ongoing costs of another station, Parness said.
“Opening a fire station requires nine firefighters,” he said. “That would be an ongoing expense of maybe $1.5 million.”
The city’s newest fire station, No. 4 on Gasser Drive in south Napa, opened in January 2004 at a cost of $2.9 million, said Shirley Perkins, public safety administrative services officer.
In lieu of a Browns Valley station, the city and its emergency responders are trying to cut down on west Napa response times that can be close to 10 minutes long even when there is no traffic, according to Interim Fire Chief Mike Randolph.
Parness said response times to west Napa are one reason the city is studying the possibilities of constructing a series of roundabouts on First Street between California Boulevard and Freeway Drive. Although emergency vehicles emit a signal that turns lights in their path green, they can be stuck if traffic is severely backed up, he said.
American Medical Response has a unit stationed on Browns Valley Road when it is not responding to calls, Randolph said. From that spot, an ambulance can reach west Napa residents experiencing medical emergencies faster than a fire engine responding from Station 1 in downtown.
About 70 percent of the calls the city receives are medical, Randolph said.
“When they are present at that location, they can help us address medicals but we still have issues with fire response,” Randolph said.
Wednesday morning, about 65 emergency responders from roughly a dozen local agencies participated in a wildfire drill in Browns Valley. The drill simulated a fire off Partrick Road that spread to the city, causing a need for residents to evacuate.
“We’ve got all the resources, the agency representatives coming together to unify the command, determine how each agency will help one another to meet the objectives,” said Battalion Chief Steve Brassfield. “It’s important at any location, but we know our response time out here is a little bit longer than the norm.”
If an emergency occurs and downtown fire crews are tied-up, firefighters from the other stations respond, Parness said.
Parness said the city is aware of the need to add another fire station but said response times have not reached a “crisis situation.” For now, the station remains a future project that is discussed by the City Council when budgets are drafted and goals set.