Recently, a family of nine moved into a newly built craftsman-style home on Orchard Road in Orinda. They are seen often, pulling their big red truck out of the garage or barbecuing dinner on the patio.
The Moraga-Orinda Fire District "family" is not new to the neighborhood. Station No. 44 has sat on the corner of Orchard Road and Moraga Way since 1945.
Just in time for its 50th anniversary, the fire district tore down the seismically unsafe station and replaced it with a new 6,200-square-foot station, complete with three dorm rooms, a kitchen/dining/dayroom, station office, workout room and a drive-through apparatus bay.
The three crews that share the station on different shifts are thrilled with their new digs. It is a vast improvement from the mobile trailer the firefighters had been using as home, since the old station was demolished last spring.
"This is great," said "B" shift Capt. Steve Anaya, who has spent 18 years as a firefighter in Moraga and Orinda. "You could always tell when winter was coming at the old Station No. 44 because you could feel the wind blowing through."
The fire district began working on Station No. 44 in 2002. It was a long process, said Fire Chief Jim Johnston.
After choosing RRM Design, the fire district held a series of community meetings to get input from residents on design options.
"We wanted to get a lot of community input as to what the exterior station would look like, because it would be a part of the neighborhood," Johnston said.
Luckily, the fire board liked the same design as the community.
Using the recently renovated Station No. 42 in Moraga as a template, changes were designed to improve living conditions for the firefighters. For instance, the workout room was moved to the other side of the station, away from the dorm rooms, for those early morning gym rats.
The designer also created separate bedrooms with separate bathrooms, similar to Station 42.
"Historically, fire stations have been built for firemen as opposed to firefighters," Johnston said.
Instead of building separate locker rooms for the men and women, the district decided to build separate bedrooms.
"We decided to make it a privacy issue, instead of a gender issue," Johnston said.
But, as with all change, it will take some time to get used to the new.
Engineer Bob Heaston, who has worked at Station 44 for 15 years, said the separate bedrooms "break up the integrity of the crew."
But, he added, at least you don't have to listen to the other firefighters snoring.
Living together, which often includes sleeping in the same room, contributes to the crew's camaraderie and sense of being a family, Heaston said.
Of course, he's not complaining about the fact that the station now has more than one bathroom and more than one shower -- and no more early morning lines for the bathroom.
In addition to trying to improve living conditions for the crew, the new station was designed to improve operating conditions.
The designer created a drive-through apparatus bay, eliminating the need to back up the engine into the garage. There are separate drain systems for rain water and wash water.
And, despite the delay in construction, Johnston said the district was $200,000 below its $2.6 million budget.
As part of reconstructing the station, the fire district also restored the nearby creek, by removing non-native plants and garbage. The district replanted the area with native plants.
Architect Kirk Van Cleave of RRM Design said he is most proud of how well the new station fits into the neighborhood.
"The sensitivity to detail. The creek restoration. The hardest thing, we spent the most time on, was the ingress and egress," Van Cleave said.
RRM Design has built more than 100 fire stations across California. Locally, the company has won recognition for its design of Livermore-Pleasanton Station No. 1 and Santa Clara Station No. 6.
Johnston plans to enter Station No. 44 in a fire station design competition with Fire Chief Magazine.