Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass greeting attendees at the National Fire Service Day celebration at Sylmar’s Fire Station 91.

For decades, Sylmar residents have pressed for a second fire station to serve their vast community of 12 square miles located next to the wildfire-prone foothills.

That need just got a shot in the arm when Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass expressed her support for another station last Saturday that would serve one-half of the fire district covering Sylmar. The community has seen its share of devastating wildfires in the past two decades, including the devastating Mareka and Sayre fires in 2008, the Creek Fire in 2017 and more recently the Saddleridge Fire in 2019. During summer months, it’s become all too common for motorists to travel with brush fires burning alongside the Foothill (210) Freeway in Sylmar.  Surrounding fire stations currently support Sylmar, but this can lengthen response times for emergency medical services which can make the difference between life and death.

Bass conveyed her support at the National Fire Service Day celebration at Sylmar’s Fire Station 91 and Sylmar Park, where she was introduced by Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez. Rodriguez praised the work of local firefighters and the need for fire prevention, and also mentioned the need for another fire station and her hope that the mayor would support the idea.

The National Fire Service Day celebration at Sylmar’s Fire Station 91, where community members could get tours of the station.

“It’s absolutely my pleasure to be here and it’s also my pleasure and honor to have a colleague like Monica Rodriguez,” said Bass. “You have a council person that is a warrior on behalf of this community, and I will join her in making sure that we get the fire station in this area.”

The mayor’s visit was a coup for the local Sylmar Neighborhood Council, that planned the National Fire Service Day event to honor Station 91 firefighters. Kurt Cabrera-Miller, the council’s Outreach Committee chair, contacted Bass’ staff to invite her to the celebration. “We stayed in touch with them for a few weeks,” he said and added with a smile. “It paid off.” 

“This is an event for the entire family that honors the people who risk their lives every day,” said Sylmar Neighborhood Council President Andres Rubalcava.

Cabrera-Miller didn’t expect the issue of a new station to be brought up at the May 13 event. But he was pleasantly surprised. “I’m overjoyed,” he said afterward. “I’m glad that the mayor is stepping up.” Cabrera-Miller said he was pleased that Rodriguez “has announced she will be working towards getting a fire station in Sylmar, that we need a station.”

“I am thrilled,” said resident Ann Job, a former president of the Neighborhood Council. “I expected Monica [Rodriguez] to say what she said, she’s always done that, but to have Mayor Bass say that is huge.” She added. “Now we can ask, ‘Where will it be located? What are we waiting for?’” Job, who lives in the foothills in northeast Sylmar, is concerned about wildfires. “I and my significant other have gone through all of them,” she said.  

The issue of another fire station has turned into a controversy over a years-long unfulfilled promise by the city of Los Angeles. In 2006, there was a groundbreaking ceremony for what was meant to be LAFD Station 31 at 16320 Foothill Blvd. It was never built. Instead, that location is the site of a building for the Greater LA County Vector Control District.   

“We were given different excuses: there are no funds, lack of staff,” recalls Cabrera-Miller. According to an LA Fire Department spokesperson, a station costs approximately $14 million.

At the May 13 event, Job handed out flyers asking people, “Want Another Fire Station in Sylmar?” The document reminded people that a fire station has been discussed in the past, including forums of candidates for municipal public office back in 2017. “We still don’t have a second fire station,” states the flyer. It also asks residents to make their voices heard in the current city budget discussions happening now. “We need to get it higher on the list of city priorities.”

Some other Southern California cities with areas and populations similar to Sylmar’s have more fire stations, including Burbank with six and Downey with four.

Sylmar’s Station 91 has been the only one in the community since it opened in 1956, equipped with one single fire engine, a paramedic ambulance, an emergency medical tech ambulance and a truck to cover little more than 12 square miles. It has eight staff members. “We have one of the largest [fire] districts in the city,” said Capt. Travis Warford in a phone conversation from Station 91. “Sylmar is about the same size as Santa Monica and they have five.”

A second station would help improve service to the community, according to Warford. “It would cut our district in half and help us respond faster to incidents.”

As members of the neighborhood council and others noted the successful move to get the newly elected Mayor to acknowledge National Fire Service at the Sylmar event, the community enjoyed the opportunity to go to an open house at Fire Station 91 on Polk Street to see its one and only fire station up close. In addition to the open house, the community event at Sylmar Park, dozens of families took photos and actually boarded the fire engines, trucks and ambulances that were on display. Some children donned little firefighter hardhats and climbed on top of fire engines and were allowed to check out emergency equipment. There were also booths and information tables from fire and other city and county agencies and nonprofits. The LAC+USC Regional Burn Center featured a “stop-drop-and-roll” game to help children minimize wounds if their clothes catch fire. 

Also joining Bass and Rodriguez were several other politicians and city officials, including US Congressman Tony Cárdenas, state Sen. Caroline Menjivar, Assemblywoman Luz Rivas and LA City Fire Chief Kristin Crowley.

Although encouraged by Bass’ public support for another fire station, Cabrera-Miller says he is a realist about how long it could take to get it built. “I don’t foresee it happening for many years,” he said. “But I believe this development is one of the many dominoes needed for its construction to take place.”

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks to the Sun for the timely article and excellent in depth reporting by Cesar Arredondo regarding the proposed 2nd Fire Station for Sylmar.
    Our newly minted mayor Karen Bass supports the effort and we will be attentive to planning and progress.
    This has been a proposed project for over
    15 years and our present Council Member Monica Rodriquez, promised this would be built when she was elected to office, but
    she seems to have forgotten or misplaced her priority and nothing has been done under her watch.
    Mayor Bass brings new hope to our Sylmar community and we will be waiting for results.

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