City Councilmembers Al Austin and Stacy Mungo. Courtesy photos.

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by 8th District Councilman Al Austin and 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

In a major city such as Long Beach, the City Council must be flexible and always ready to respond to unforeseen circumstances that could negatively impact the quality of life of our residents. As we work to approve our budget before Sept. 15, we are asking our colleagues to support budget modifications that would quickly and responsibly create a temporary Fire Station 9 to preserve our response times and protect our residents in emergency situations.

While city management is working on developing a plan for the temporary and permanent replacement of Fire Station 9, it is imperative that we provide the funding necessary to put a new temporary fire station in place as soon as possible. The temporary station is estimated to cost between $1.5 and $2 million. We are asking our colleagues to allocate $1.56 million of Measure A funds available in October to pay for the costs to get the temporary station established. These funds will become available on Oct. 1, and the sooner we get them allocated, the safer our residents will be.

But a temporary fire station is just that—temporary. To build a new permanent station, the cost estimates range from $13 to $20 million. Thus, we are additionally asking our colleagues to support dedicating a portion of future unallocated Measure A revenues in the amount of $6.2 million to get the project started with the expectation that city staff will come back with project estimates within 180 days.

For those who have not yet heard about the recent issues at Station 9, here is a quick summary. Fire Station 9, located in Bixby Knolls, was built in 1938, and is one of the oldest fire stations in the city.

In November 2017, the City Safety Office conducted an industrial hygiene assessment of Station 9 after a series of illnesses was reported by Fire Department employees who were assigned there.

Active mold was found in the building, requiring the personnel and apparatus to be temporarily relocated to nearby fire stations until remediation was completed.

After heavy rains in January, water was leaking into the station around several windows. In June, the rescue ambulance and the paramedics assigned to Station 9 were relocated again to Station 13 so construction could take place to replace the windows and make repairs.

The remaining crew and Engine 9 had initially stayed at the station, but as repairs began, active mold was discovered again, and it was determined that the extent of the water penetration and the building’s condition were much more serious than initially believed. Engine 9 and its crew were subsequently moved to Station 16 to protect the health and safety of our Fire Department employees. After further analysis and discussion with the City Safety Office and Public Works Department, the fire chief believes Station 9 is too far gone and must be replaced.

The fire chief and his command staff are working to minimize impacts to response times during the relocation, including actively patrolling the service area when possible. However, the fire chief has indicated that even when dispatched from near the station average response times have increased. As we all know, in an emergency, every second counts.

This City Council has prioritized and funded many public safety restorations that were cut during the recession, and we recognize that the Fire Department works as one citywide system. When there is a disruption to that system, it can affect services throughout the city.

Thanks to the voter support of Measure A, the City Council has been able to restore Engine 8 in Belmont Shore, Rescue 12 in North Long Beach, and we anticipate the Council will continue to support the Budget Oversight Committee’s recommendation to restore East Long Beach’s Engine 17 effective in October.

Again, while Engine 9 and Rescue 9 remain in service, it is important to establish a temporary station within their service area as quickly as possible to minimize delays in service. We hope our colleagues will join us in support of this important public safety effort.