After years of making do with temporary quarters, volunteer firefighters who serve the small community of Annapolis in northwestern Sonoma County are set to get a permanent home.
That means access to amenities including electricity, safe storage for equipment and a training base that they've done without for a long time.
The new facility is to be built on open land at the Sonoma County equipment yard off Annapolis Road. The $555,000 project was given the go-ahead last week by the county Board of Supervisors.
"It's been a long time coming," said Sonoma County Fire Chief Mark Aston, who oversees the Annapolis department and 14 other volunteer departments across the county.
Construction of the prefabricated metal building is set to begin this summer and wrap up next year, allowing move-in by fall or winter. The basic station will not have living quarters and will make use of a portable restroom building outside.
Still, firefighters hope the new site will mean a boost in visibility and support for the small company, which currently tops out at six volunteers. They serve a population of more than 400 people, including the town of Annapolis and homes scattered over 127 square miles of rugged coastal hills.
"As of now, no one really knows we have a station," said Annapolis Fire Chief Dagan Holmes. The current headquarters is on the Starcross monastery property about a mile up the road from the new site. It consists of a old blacksmith's shop and an aluminium-sided barn, both with dirt floors.
Rodents are a problem, presenting health and safety risks for firefighters and making gear storage in big plastic tubs a necessity. Other equipment is sent home with volunteers, presenting problems with gear management.
The new facility will have four bays to accommodate the department's engine and water tender and other equipment, as well as concrete floors and secure gear lockers to keep critters out.
Training sessions now held miles away at Cal Fire's Sea Ranch headquarters will be returned to home ground.
"The sooner the better," said Holmes, who voiced hope the new site would be a recruiting tool for his department. "I'm hoping it will be something the community will see."
The vast territory presents other challenges, including response times that have lagged behind those for other volunteer departments in the county.
Firefighters said the new station could help improve those times somewhat. Another recent change to assign the department's rescue squad vehicle to an on-call volunteer is geared to achieve faster arrivals on calls.
"Those response times are always going to be on the longer side," Aston said about the Annapolis area. "But we're hopeful that we'll see the time goals improve."
The $555,000 station is funded with $500,000 from a tobacco settlement fund and with $55,000 in county fire district property taxes.
The station upgrade is part of a larger effort to overhaul facilities for volunteer departments across the county.
Recently, that included $85,000 in county funding to finish the new station in Bodega.
After the Annapolis project, $415,000 is set aside to buy property and build a new station for the Lakeville department.
County officials said the improvements were critical to improving fire service in the unincorporated area.
"Having (the new facilities) improves operational readiness and critical fire response," said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose west county district takes in Annapolis and Bodega. "From a firefighter perspective, we're also improving safety."