When Aaron Lacey, Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department deputy chief of administration, looked back on his time working at the recently rebuilt Fire Station No. 3, one of his first comments was on the prison-like showers.
"It was the gym, then it was a shower in the restrooms," he said. "It was like a big gang shower ... it did not meet the modern 21st century fire service."
But that all changed as city officials and roughly 80 Pleasanton residents celebrated the completion of the station's rebuild on Nov. 18. The project included demolishing the original one-story building, located on 3200 Santa Rita Road, and creating a new two-story building with modern firefighter tools and amenities, gender neutral bathrooms and private dorm rooms.
"The former fire station had some challenges and we wanted to ensure health and safety for our firefighter personnel, but also provide components and essential upgrades that are required for a fire station to operate successfully," Mayor Karla Brown told the crowd of residents and staff who gathered inside the main garage area of the station.
According to the city, staff identified the need to replace the old station in 2016 after a study reported "deteriorating physical condition of the building as well as its inability to deliver services expected of a modern fire department."
But, as with most things, construction was delayed because of the pandemic.
"I will say if you're considering building a fire station, I would highly recommend you not launch that project as the global pandemic begins," LPFD Chief Joe Testa said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. "It has been a journey for everyone involved."
However, the project quickly got back on track when the city awarded the construction contract to Mar Con Builders in August 2020, which led to last year's temporary relocation of the Fire Station No. 3 staff so work could get underway.
The total cost, including design, demolition of the old building, constructing and then removing the temporary station, and constructing and outfitting the new station was approximately $9 million, according to the city.
During a walkthrough of the new facility, Lacey, who had worked at the old station for seven years, said that while the seismic and structural problems with the building were a main component of the rebuild, it really boiled down to fitting the modern day firefighter.
He said they are a growing diverse group of people who represent their communities and provide essential services -- so the least they deserve is a facility that can properly serve them.
"The original station had more cubicle living," Lacey said. "So it wasn't private dormitory rooms, everything was kind of an open floor plan."
He said the bathrooms were the same way, making it a problem for women who had to use a shower in what was called the "company officer bathroom," which was secluded from the main showers.
"When I first got hired here, it was like going into your typical 1970s college gymnasium," Lacey said. "It didn't match the 21st century fire service."
The gender neutral bathrooms with individual showers are just some of the new amenities that the 12 firefighters who work and live at the station can enjoy on the little spare time they get in between their long shifts.
Lacey said that everything from the refurbished day room, modernized kitchen and renovated gym helps create an area where these first responders can call their second home.
"In the fire service, we always say, the fire department is like a home away from home," Lacey said. "We call each other brothers and sisters because it's like a second family. A lot of these firefighters spend more time with their co-workers than they do with their own family."
Other main components of the rebuild that Lacey also pointed out were the several safety aspects such as the negative pressure fan that helps suck out the exhaust that is produced by the massive fire truck that carries a 100 foot aerial ladder.
When that truck pulls out after responding to a call, the exhaust in the garage gets sucked into a ventilation system and gets released through the roof. That type of ventilation system is present throughout the facility to help minimize the chance of any smoke-related hazards in the air -- something that firefighters don't need more in their lungs.
"We're exposed to carcinogens," Lacey said. "(There is a) high probability that most firefighters are more susceptible to different types of cancer. So if we can make our facilities as safe and as possible for our employees and our workforce, that's our goal."
On the operations side of the improvements, one of the biggest things that Lacey and city officials pointed to was the replacement of the sliding garage doors with new bifold doors. The reasoning is that the sliding doors take longer to open, meaning the bifold doors, which open horizontally, will lead to improved response time.
"Our response times will be reduced, our overall personnel are in a modern facility, which helps them do their job more effectively," City Manager Gerry Beaudin said at the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Another big improvement was a fuel cell for the firetruck, which means the truck does not have to travel outside of its service district to refuel anymore.
While the old station did have one before, Lacey said it had some environmental issues, which put it out of service.
"Our goal in the fire service is to always have our operational units within their district at all times," Lacey said. "The older station didn't have a fuel station so it would cause our unit to leave its district all across town on either side in order to get fuel."
The station floor plan also reduces response times by centralizing the apparatus bay entrance, which is now easily accessible from anywhere in the two-story station. The second story is accessed by either stairs or the newly built elevator, which Lacey said is a step away from the traditional pole.
He actually said that most fire departments are moving away from the iconic pole that people are used to seeing firefighters on because of related injuries.
Other site improvements for the new station include: parking for personnel and the public; an emergency generator; sustainable landscape and irrigation systems; and a solar reflective roof to help mitigate heat gain in the summer.
"Pleasanton is the 'City of Planned Progress', and we want to diversify our workforce. We want our workforce to match the communities that we serve and the older station wasn't a facility that supported that mission," Lacey said. "I think the city of Pleasanton has done a terrific job with making diversity, equity inclusion a top priority in the city and they put their money where their mouth is."