San Francisco Residents Upset over Moving of Nation’s Busiest Firehouse

San Francisco firefighters  have had a special place in Demetrios Lyras’ heart since they dragged his unconscious body from a burning building in 1965, saving his life, he said.

But now that a busy new fire station – the city’s first since the 1950s – could be built across the street from his SoMa home, the relationship is more complicated.

“I like firefighters,” he said. “I’m all for them. The noise, though, is the main thing.”

The problem, Lyras and other neighbors say, is that fire stations, with their diesel trucks, buzz saws, generators and blaring sirens are downright noisy. And while everybody wants firefighters nearby when they’re not feeling well, hearing the trucks tear out of the station again and again for someone else can get a bit tiresome.

The city wants to move the 13 firefighters from their current home on Howard Street to a brand-new station on Folsom Street, making room for the eye-catching new wing of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. But parachuting a fire engine, ladder truck and heavy rescue squad into an already-established neighborhood is easier said than done.

“Normally, people reside near fire stations after they are already in place; fire stations rarely move their locations,” said Planning Commissioner Ron Miguel. “We are doing the opposite here. We are moving a fire station into an area with residents.”

The current station, Fire Station No. 1, which serves the Tenderloin and Sixth Street area, is the busiest in America, said Monica Fields, deputy fire chief for administration. In 2010, firefighters left the station 9,924 times, which averages 27 times a day, she said. The new station will likely be just as busy.

“They’re going to be ripping and roaring all the time,” said Denise Downs, another resident who lives and works in a house behind the proposed station. “That’s going to be a negative drag.”

But firefighters don’t anticipate using their sirens every time they leave the new station, Fields said. They’ll carry a button similar to a garage door opener that will allow them to manually turn traffic lights at the two nearest intersections to red, clearing a path on Folsom for the engines, she said.

“We usually have to use our sirens to clear traffic to the right,” she said. “But with this brand-new technology, we shouldn’t have to do that.”

The plan for the new fire station – and the new wing of the museum – will be considered by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in the coming months. The new fire station must be finished before construction on the museum can begin.

Downs, who has two kids, said that if firefighters can find a way to control their noise, bringing a fire station to the gritty area, a mix of industrial warehouses, modern condos, run-down shanties and sex shops, would be a good thing.

“They’re always whizzing and pooping,” Downs said, referring to some of the people who pass through. “So having firefighters here, that part of it would be great. Those people might go somewhere else.”

Vagon Lares, who works in the Folsom Gulch sex shop next to the proposed firehouse, agreed.

“Folsom Street has a certain undesirable element and having a fire station around – they clean up the area,” he said. “Honestly, it will actually attract business. People feel safer when the firemen are around.”

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