Home Critical engine SF’s new fire station floats off the Embarcadero

SF’s new fire station floats off the Embarcadero

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More than two years, 50 million dollars and an ocean crossing later, San Francisco has its new fire station. And it floats.

The San Francisco Fire Department’s 35-story fire station opens Thursday on the Embarcadero at Pier 22½, more than a year after crossing the bay at low tide in pre-dawn darkness since Treasure Island, where the superstructure was built.

The 173-foot-long by 96-foot-wide float that allows the station to surf the tides was specially made in China to withstand tides and natural disasters. This could make all the difference during a fire or earthquake that could collapse buildings on earth and potentially leave the station as the last stronghold from which to send rescuers and rescue equipment.

The battleship-like building is the first and only floating fire station in the Western Hemisphere, according to San Francisco Department of Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon.

The gray structure with its glass facade and Bay Bridge backdrop will now take on many of the tasks previously performed by the more than 100-year-old Embarcadero Fire Hall. It’s where the city’s fireboats were once dispatched, especially to fight fires caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

The historic Fire Station 35 building will remain standing on the pier where it was originally built, and the fire truck it houses will still operate from its garage.

“You can fit the current station into about 30% of the new station,” SFFD spokesman Jonathan Baxter said, speaking ahead of the opening.

Fire Station 35, which will house the San Francisco Fire Department’s three fireboats and lifeboats, is considered the only floating fire station in the Western Hemisphere.

Noah Berger / Special for The Chronicle

The new structure is also designed to withstand the perils of nature, instead of being at the mercy of them. These include king tides and expected sea level rise, as well as earthquakes. The gently lapping waves lapping the Embarcardero Seawall can turn into fierce tides during a seismic event like the Loma Prieta earthquake, which caused a tsunami near the Monterey Bay shoreline and caused building collapses and soil liquefaction in parts of San Francisco.

Instead of being built on a dock, the 14,900 square foot structure is designed to float, anchored to four vertical guide piles measuring 150 feet each and driven into the floor of the bay. The structure is designed to roll with these seismic blows and provide relief, including from a small medical bay on board a boat.

The station “will help us minimize damage during an earthquake,” Baxter said, allowing firefighters to respond much better to a large-scale emergency, especially compared to the previous exercise of descending the spiral staircase from the early 20th century in the old fire station. .

The new station’s floating structure is also equipped with lifts to pull the city’s three fireboats – the St. Francis, the Phoenix and the Guardian – out of the water for repairs, Baxter said.

One of these boats is staffed 24/7 to cover the city’s large waterfront and waterways. This round-the-clock capability has allowed the SFFD to respond to large incidents, such as the fire that tore through Pier 45 in 2020, igniting fishing gear and sending flames and smoke 100 feet into the sky.

Baxter said the boats can also respond to aquatic emergencies, such as capsized vessels or distressed swimmers from Ocean Beach to Hunters Point and beyond. They can put out fires with water from the bay that first responders ashore cannot reach, and serve as hydrants for firefighters ashore.

Having a fire station right on the water will also make it faster and easier for the city’s fire department to dispatch its other lifeboats (the layman might call them jet skis) directly from station rather than from their longtime home at the St. Francis Yacht Club located near Marina Green.

The new building also includes a revamped operations center to coordinate communications during on-water and regional emergencies, as well as a ramp that allows ambulances to pick up patients transferred to one of the fireboats. .

Baxter said in the past, water rescues required moving patients often in critical condition onto a stretcher and then into a waiting ambulance on land. “It allows us to descend to where the boat is moored and transfer patients from the boat to the ambulance.”

Baxter said the station’s workforce of 21, seven of whom are on duty at any given time, including three people who operate the engine, will remain the same.

The project cost $50.5 million, according to the city’s Department of Public Works, which managed the project for the fire department. The funding came from the second phase of the earthquake safety and emergency response bond approved by San Francisco voters in 2014.

Initial estimates put the cost of the project at $40.5 million, of which $31.8 million was planned for construction. Construction has been delayed by more than a year from original plans, in part due to slowdowns during the pandemic, according to Gordon, the DPW spokeswoman.

Chase DiFeliciantonio is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @ChaseDiFelice