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First responders work out of a condemned building

Unreinforced brick firehouse was last renovated in 1922
By: Lien Hoang Journal correspondent
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The men and women charged with saving Newcastle residents need a little saving of their own. The Newcastle Fire Protection District has for six years been working out of a condemned building, until they can afford a safer home. “This building isn’t functioning,” Fire Chief Jay Love said, sending mortar crumbling to the ground as he ran his fingers across the brick walls. The brick isn’t reinforced; the stucco outside has been steadily falling away; and the firehouse’s left entrance is now propped up by little more than a wooden beam on either side, plus pieces of wood like chipped teeth bolted overhead. That’s the extent of repair the building received after part of the entrance came down in 2004. At the time, a fire engine was passing through, when the rolling door fell two inches, enough to knock off the engine’s light bar. Though the building was condemned, it was fixed up enough to get a limited use permit, meaning only firefighters can enter. Once serving as a theater, the firehouse hasn’t been renovated since opening in 1922 because that would require meeting new building codes established since then. After walking down a flight of creaking stairs, Love pointed to the set of weights moved to the ground floor when the firefighters deemed it no longer safe upstairs. “If this building went down, we wouldn’t be able to serve the community,” Love said. “You never know what could happen. It’s been facing time and weather.” Quick to emphasize that nothing is close to set in stone, Bob Stearns has been contemplating a new location five minutes north. The chairman of the fire board is considering everything from financing, to leasing, to courting public funds for the $1.5 million building. Constructing a brand new firehouse, Stearns said, would cost $3 million. “Of course, we don’t have that money,” he said. The department has about $100,000 from development fees. He’s been in talks with representatives of Assemblyman Ted Gaines and Congressman Tom McClintock to determine how the state and federal governments can help. And a new group, the Friends of the Newcastle Fire Protection District, is setting out to raise funds for the effort. “In trying times, with the economy the way it is, it’s hard to go out and ask people for money,” Stearns said. But, “We have no other place to go, to tell you the truth.” He said the community has known for a long time that the firehouse has been in disrepair. That community includes Greg Isett, who works next door as director of education at Music Exchange. “It was a surprise to us that they’re an agency operating out of that dangerous building, and sleeping there,” said Isett, who remembered hearing the 2004 accident that brought down the entrance. “We talk to the firefighters and tell them, ‘Hey, we’re keeping our fingers crossed that you’re able to get a place soon.’” If they do, Stearns said, “it will be a great boost in the morale of firefighters and the whole district.”