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Trailer set to serve as sleeping quarters for Newcastle firefighters

Fire board hoping new station construction under $1 million
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Newcastle firefighters are preparing to camp outside for the foreseeable future. As further plans get under way for a new fire house in Newcastle to replace the existing condemned building, including a potential increase in residents’ fire tax, firefighters are set to move into temporary housing: a 1990 camping trailer. “We are definitely trying to get the new station built,” said Bob Stearns, chairman of the Newcastle Fire Protection District board. “What we have done so far is we had one of the residents in Newcastle donate two small parcels of land so we can build a new station. And we have a building fund set up at the bank here for anyone who wants to donate and help out. We are also looking at possible grants to help fund it. Also, I’m working with the United Auburn Indian Community to help us fund it as well. We just purchased a travel trailer, a 26-foot travel trailer that the firefighters can now sleep in at night. And they still go in to get the trucks if a call comes in.” The parcels are located directly off of Interstate 80 in Newcastle from the corner of Newcastle Road and Old State Highway to Monroe Transmission on Old State Highway. They total a little over half an acre in land and were donated by Jerald Saladana. If the everyday passerby were to stop and look at the front of the station, he or she would see two large wooden support beams holding up the sides and top of one of the garage doors. The door is surrounded by caving bricks, broken cement and dilapidated wooden slats. Although the beams were supposed to be a temporary solution, they have been that way for six years after that side of the firehouse literally crumbled, according to Capt. Greg Kirk. Newcastle Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Jay Love said the trailer is supposed to be able to fit six people, but will probably only house three firefighters at a time. Love said Friday the district responded to 33 calls in May. It responded to 512 calls in 2010 and has received 224 calls so far this year. Currently the firefighters are still sleeping in the condemned fire house next door to the trailer, and are waiting for their Plectron alert system to be installed in the 1990 Terry trailer so they can still respond to calls that come out. “It’s sad,” Love said about the trailer. “I mean it’s not really the ideal living situation. It’s not going to be a full-time residence. It’s temporary.” Stearns said the firefighters are committed to their jobs, but they can’t continue to live in the old station. “It’s basically you have got to do what you’ve got to do to stay in business and help the community,” Stearns said. “The board of directors is doing everything they can to make it work for firefighters here.” Kirk said although the trailer is not the best place for firefighters, it’s better than being in the condemned building. “The building is OK, but the trailer is a safer alternative to the condition of the building,” Kirk said. “The board is looking out for our best interest to keep us safe and keep us responding. Yes, it’s not ideal, but I think it’s a step in getting us some better housing. It’s an alternative to having this thing coming down on our heads.” Firefighter Maxx Zamani said the trailer is better than having to shut down the firehouse altogether. “I think (the board is) working very hard for us,” Zamani said. “That is what keeps us motivated to work hard for the district. It’s rough but we could be closed. It can always be worse. We will do what it takes to continue serving Newcastle.” Zamani said he thinks a big problem is people don’t realize what horrible condition the firehouse is in or how underpaid the firefighters are. Stearns said those that are paid make $8.50 an hour with no benefits, and a potential increase in residents’ fire tax would go toward building the new station and increasing firefighter wages. Stearns said the firefighters association also brings in some funds from its pancake breakfast, and at least one other fundraiser, involving the sale of a classic car, is in the works. The community has also come together in the form of the Friends of the Newcastle Fire Protection District to brainstorm ideas for fundraising. Stearns said there is no exact cost for construction yet, but the board hopes, with the community’s help it will be well under what a new fire station would typically cost. “We’re hoping that the completed project will be under $1 million, which is unusual to build a station for that,” he said. “In the past we have had estimates to build a station for the ground up and it’s gone as far as $4.1 million, but you’re talking about a pretty elaborate station.” The district’s building fund, which opened about a week ago, currently has about $2,500 in it. The district also has about $170,000 in development fees, part of which can be spent on the construction, Stearns said. Stearns said the district is working with state legislative officials, but it’s also important for the community to get involved because of the possible consequences of not building the new firehouse and having to use another fire company in the area. “One of the things that is really important about it is if we have to close the Newcastle Fire Station, response times are going to increase no matter where you are,” Stearns said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com -------------------------------------------------- How you can help the Newcastle Fire Protection District Contact Bob Stearns at (916) 276-4081 or e-mail bstearns@ncbb.net