Army firefighters can once again call the Presidio of Monterey home after a 65-year absence.
On Aug. 1, the City of Monterey Fire Department handed the torch of protecting the military installation back to the Presidio of Monterey Fire Department.
In 1955, the Army laid off hundreds of civilian employees who worked on the Monterey peninsula, which left the Presidio short of firefighters. With limited options available, the Army turned to the City of Monterey for help.
Major Gen. Robert B. McClure, Fort Ord commanding general at the time, negotiated an agreement with the city to provide fire protection services to the Presidio and its residents. The Army agreed to pay the city $32k per year to provide the services -- a $25k cost savings to the Army.
Since then, the City of Monterey Fire Department protected PoM service members and residents by standing ready and responding to emergencies on the Presidio.
When the old fire station closed, the building was repurposed, so the biggest challenge of opening the station this year was finding a suitable building.
The command team found a temporary solution with the Eisenhower house, a historic home on PoM that normally serves as a holiday rental. The permanent station will be in building 220, and is expected to be finished in about a year.
Garrison commander, Col. Varman Chhoeung, said having a fire station on the installation will better protect service members and their families because firefighters are closer and will be able to respond to emergencies more quickly.
“If we have a fire on the presidio, I am confident in PoM FDs ability to respond and put the fire out before it spreads and causes further damage. Reducing damage and protecting lives is all about response time,” Chhoeung said.
Ramon Rivera, assistant chief of operations, agreed “We have done time trials, and we can reach anywhere on PoM within a five minute response time,” he said.
Rivera said the transition was relatively smooth because both the garrison and city partners supported the effort. He added, they did not have to hire new firefighters or purchase much equipment because they already had most of the resources at the Ord Military Community station.
“Most of the equipment … the engine, firefighting gear, etc. was already here. We just took one company and moved them to PoM,” Rivera said. “We had to purchase some small things like EMS bags, wall lockers and cookware.”
PoM firefighters initiated self-help projects to improve life at the station by building furniture and décor.
“When we have some downtime we’re working on projects around the station … firefighters always like getting their fingers dirty,” said Capt. Shawn Benjamin, one of two station captains.
When not making their new home a better place to live, they spend time driving the base and walking through buildings.
“We have been getting ourselves familiar with the roads, the buildings, Huckleberry Hill, and all the areas, so we know where and how to respond,” Benjamin said.
He added, “I think we will be an asset to the command and the community -- we will be able to better support PoM functions and events for community outreach.”