Hot fire station now cool
Nine miles down Highway 45 in eastern Colusa County is the barest sketch of a farming town - a rice-drying plant, post office, church, a small store and a few battered sheds of corrugated steel.
Protecting it all for 78 years has been the Grand Island fire station, from which 17 volunteers put out blazes and tend to ill people in the hamlet of Grimes.
Now, after three months and $100,000 in renovations, firefighters hope this outpost of the Sacramento River Fire District will become a more efficient place to put out fires and crises - while also being a better host to those nearby.
“It's been a long time coming,” Fire Chief Jeff Winters said last week as he toured the remade firefighters' quarters in Grimes, still heavy with the smell of fresh paint and wallboard.
Fresh tile paved the floor, a complete kitchen occupied an old storage room and a new climate-control system stood ready to cope with the 100-degree days that often bake the steel-sheathed structure.
“In the summer, it was hot-hot out here,” Winters recalled. “This metal building just absorbed all the heat.”
A fundraising pancake breakfast will introduce the reshaped fire station to the public on New Year's morning, and the revamped quarters are expected to make the fire station a better home to its annual social events, such as its annual September pit barbecue.
But for Grimes firefighters, the real payoff may be felt during medical, firefighting, vehicle extrication and other kinds of training, which take up the bulk of the volunteer force's 40 or so monthly hours on duty.
Since the current Grand Island station (the second at the site) opened in 1963, its volunteer force - like many small-town forces - has seen its mission extended far beyond dousing flames to all manner of emergency work; medical help now accounts for nearly two-thirds of the fire district's calls. The new firemen's quarters will serve as a staging area before and after emergency calls, where volunteers can set up - and then clean and sanitize - medical gear, breathing equipment and the like.
“Over the last 10 years, the department has grown, and the merger has helped it so much that we just outgrew it,” said John Kimbrell, assistant Sacramento River chief.
The renovation caps a steady flow of repairs and improvements - including a new fire engine and fixes to the vehicle area - since the old Grand Island and Colusa fire districts combined in 1997.
For Kimbrell, the last Grand Island fire chief before the merger, outgrowing the Grimes station is a good problem to have for a force once endangered by slashed state payouts and a graying populace in this village of about 300.
“I can remember 10, 12 years ago when I was 40, and I was the youngest man in the room,” he said. “That was one reason for the merger, because so many of the firefighters were in their 60s, and there were only a couple of younger ones. Grimes people, they grow up, get an education and move on; they don't stay and run the family farm like they used to.”
That such a small community still supports a firefighting force, Kimbrell said, bodes well for its future.
“This community has done an excellent job supporting a small fire department,” he said. “A lot of people felt we could serve the town better if we had a better facility, and that's what they wanted to do.”
Appeal-Democrat reporter Howard Yune can be reached at 749-4708. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.