By summer, a long-awaited fire station is expected to be built in the town of Paloma.
To be operated by the Mokelumne Hill Fire Protection District (MHFPD), the satellite station will be the town’s first public building since the old schoolhouse was closed in 1963. That was also the county’s last single-classroom school, according to the Calaveras County Historical Society.
Relying almost entirely on volunteer labor, MHFPD provides emergency services to residences within a 5-mile radius of Mokelumne Hill and Paloma, a town of approximately 145 houses.
It’s a seven-minute trip from the district’s solitary station in Mokelumne Hill to Paloma, and that doesn’t count the time it takes for any number of the 13 on-call volunteers to get to the station. The presence of a firehouse in the Paloma area will decrease response times and ideally improve recruitment opportunities for the under-resourced district, according to Chief Mike Dell’Orto.
“Hopefully we’ll get a number of people from town that will become firefighters here,” Dell’Orto told the Enterprise on Jan. 29 at the proposed site off Main Street, a short dead-end road in Paloma. “Seven minutes is a lot of time, but if we have volunteers down here getting training, it’s going to make it so much better for the community.”
The district bought the parcel a few years ago for $15,000, and then invested another $6,000 to $7,000 in septic system installation, safety inspections and a lot line adjustment, according to Suzie Coe, one of the district’s directors, who was also at the site.
The facility may also serve as an emergency shelter for the Paloma area.
Coe said the Mokelumne Hill firehouse was the only building in town with power during the 2015 Butte Fire.
“Elderly people need a place to go,” Coe said. “We saw that firsthand with the Butte Fire.”
If a grant can be secured for a generator at the new Paloma firehouse, the building will likely be used as a heating and cooling site with the capacity to power life-support devices – a growing need in the new era of proactive power shutoffs during wildfire season.
Dell’Orto said he is working with the Calaveras County Fire Chiefs Association to arrange an agreement with oxygen suppliers.
“Most people that are on oxygen have two or three bottles for backup,” or enough for about a day without power, Dell’Orto said. “Then they use the machines that separate oxygen out of the air, and they’re electric powered, so in the case of Paloma, we’re going to put in a lot of electric circuits.”
The layout for the 2,400-square-foot steel firehouse includes two engine bays, a large break room, commercial kitchen, a changing room for firefighters and handicapped parking. The fire engine currently at the Mokelumne Hill station will sit in one of those bays, and a new type 3 engine the district recently purchased with Butte Fire settlement funds from the California Office of Emergency Services will take its place. The district is planning to purchase a smaller initial attack vehicle as well.
Dell’Orto hopes to eventually equip the station with video and audio training tools to facilitate a classroom setting – a large screen TV, monitors and sliding dry-erase boards, among other items.
“We’ve had our eyes on Paloma for a new fire station for more than 30 years,” Coe said.
The MHFPD budget is tight, with about $130,000 in tax dollars coming in annually, but a number of new funding sources will help pay for the station, Coe said.
Special tax revenues saved over the past 15 years, compensation for strike team assignments and increased funding from Proposition 172 and the county Transient Occupancy Tax should be enough to cover the cost of the new station, Coe said.
That said, equipment costs and other expenditures will accumulate down the road, and for the poorest, smallest fire district in the county, “Money runs out fast,” Dell’Orto said.
Bids for construction are due by Feb. 20, and will be reviewed by the board on Feb. 27, Coe said, adding that the proposed development has already garnered some interest.
Licensed building contractors can acquire complete building plans for the turnkey structure at the district firehouse, 8160 Church St., Mokelumne Hill. Contact the firehouse at 286-1389. Paloma residents interested in volunteering with the district are encouraged to reach out as well.