Rural community petitions for year-round firehouse
by Brooke Borba | Patterson Irrigator
Sep 26, 2013 | 1900 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sweetwater CalFire Fire Station
Sweetwater CalFire Fire Station
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Residents of Del Puerto Canyon, the San Antonio Valley, Mines Road and Mt. Hamilton are petitioning to keep the Cal Fire Sweetwater Station No. 25, located at the junction of State Route 130 and Mines Road South of Livermore, open for added safety amenities and protection during Cal Fire’s off-season.

Unlike many other communities within California, residents in those regions are encompassed within four counties, including Santa Clara, Alameda, San Joaquin and Stanislaus, but are directly underserved by each province in terms of emergency services. Several agencies claim that the Del Puerto Canyon is an underserved area, but visitors and residents alike suggest that when the station isn’t open, it is an unserved area.

Despite living within the four-corner of the counties’ region, residents of the rural landscape are only confined to one emergency service —the Sweetwater Station No. 25, which only offers its services during Cal Fire’s on-season; typically between April to Oct. or pending on weather patterns.

For the rest of the year, rural residents must fend for themselves and each other to maintain natural disasters, health issues and fatal accidents. This proves incidental considering Del Puerto Canyon’s scenic routes for bicyclists, motorists and sightseers during the winter months when the roads become thick with ice or snow.

Resident Cheryl Joergensen said out-of-towners are the most frequent victims to be found in her area, and often become incapacitated due to the narrow roadways, lack of cell phone service and slippery roads during the off-season.

“People want to enjoy the aspects of the country, and are coming into an area that they do not know very well,” said Joergensen. “At times, they need service and are at the mercy of the people they are traveling with or from residents. We are morally obligated to help them.”

“The public needs this station to be operational,” said Cheryl’s husband, Neil. “I’ve been here for 14 years, and traffic has quadrupled. Anything and everything happens. We’ve try to be prepared for this, but we can’t do it alone.”

In the past, help was often sought from Patterson, San Jose or even Fresno responders, which can take up to four hours or more, according to residents.

“They try their best to respond to the scene, but the bottom line is that we are out of the district…” said John Chamorro, who lives off Del Puerto Canyon Road. “Imagine getting a 10-ton fire truck all the way up here. In that situation, everyone’s in danger.”

There have been several situations as well where no services were available to answer a residents’ calls.

“It’s four and a half hours between us and CHP,” said Joergensen, who recounted a time when a motorcyclist was in a dire need of help. “En route, the Sheriff received two calls. They had to stop to go to another emergency. We were fortunate the Cal Fire station was open to answer our call.”

Residents gathered together on Friday afternoon, Sept. 20 to discuss the need for public safety and to encourage the petition, which will be presented to Cal Fire, Country Fire and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese prior to a meeting of the three agencies in the first part of October. Residents were all in agreement that finding the victims can be as troublesome as getting someone to respond to the scene, and could each recount several instances where they were required to intervene.

“It would be nice to have somebody that knows us and our area,” said Chamorro. “When we call 911, they ask us to identify the nearest cross streets. We don’t have any cross streets. We use mile markers or local names. 911 doesn’t recognize mile markers. Many times we will reference a direction and approximate mileage form the Sweetwater Station.”

In addition to mile markers, residents said they’ve attributed age-old nicknames to certain regions in lieu of addresses. Addresses in that region are not laid out in any logical order. Emergency airlifts are frequent, but hard to provide due to fog banks and working with unknown terrain, said Adrienne Swart, a local resident and former volunteer firefighter chief.

Swart said the area used to have an active volunteer department several years ago, but due to state measures, the department was disbanded because the volunteer service did not meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.

“I could be sued as a volunteer firefighter if we wanted to keep this up,” said Swart. “It’s not a risk anyone should take.”

Similarly, residents claimed they did not have the capabilities to help those in need and desperately wish an emergency service was nearby for immediate results.

Sheriff Eddie Carballo of Santa Clara County said he is occasionally called out to Del Puerto Canyon roughly two to 20 times a month depending on the level of activity in the region.

“Clearly, we are going to benefit from this if the petition goes through. That’s just a fact, not an opinion. Our response time can be between one hour to two hours, and that’s if I am driving an SUV, not a fire truck. It’d be beneficial to have a station within the region.”

Although several calls were made to Cal Fire’s Sweetwater Station, no one was available for comment during the time of publication.

The petition is strictly led by a community initiative and should not be attributed to one author. To view the petition, please visit http://keepsweetwateropen.org/

Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24 or brooke@pattersonirrigator.com

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