At long last, after many years of fits and starts and an entire community pitching in to make things happen, the residents of North Fork have broken ground on a new Fire Station.
A crowd of over 200 gathered at the mill site on Thursday, March 29th, to celebrate all the people who have worked so hard to bring the project to fruition. District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler orchestrated the festivities, acknowledging the dogged determination of the North Fork Rancheria Tribal Council, the North Fork Community Development Council (“CDC”), the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department, and the Fire Department Auxiliary.
The two-and-a-half acre parcel was donated by the North Fork Community Development Council. Deadline for completion of the project is December 30th 2012, but the goal is to finish by the end of November, according to Wheeler. The facility will be able to accommodate two fire trucks and one squad, with two drive-through bays. An office and reception area with bathrooms will be included. Plans are that the site will one day also include a bay for Sierra Ambulance and sleeping quarters.
“This has been quite the process. We started out right in that corner over there, 6 or 8 years ago,” said Wheeler, pointing to a spot down near the main entrance to the mill site. “Then we found out it was going to cost $200,000 just to dig the rock out of there, so we had to move it.” After choosing a new spot farther up the hill, they were informed by an environmental interest that they couldn’t build there because it was wetlands.
“And I said yeah, we created this wetland, it used to be a log deck, and all these low spots we created for drainage,” Wheeler said. The plan is to use fill dirt to raise the building site about seven feet, avoiding any possible issues going forward.
With Madera County providing $400,000 in funds for the project, the North Fork Rancheria, through an Indian Community Development Block Grant, contributed $496,000, and in exchange, will have two lots available for projects of their own. First on their agenda is a TANF (Tribal Assistance for Needy Families) building, which is now in the planning stages.
“The fire station is the first thing we’re gonna build here and we hope it won’t be the last. We hope to continue this trend,” said Wheeler.
Elaine Bethel Fink, Tribal Chairperson for the North Fork Rancheria, spoke about what this milestone means to the people of North Fork.
“One of the definitions of community is people coming together and they have common interests. That is all of us, and that is North Fork. We are a community coming together with common interests. It’s wonderful, and we’re thankful for it.”
She went on to reminisce about the old Mill Site, painting a picture for everyone of a time gone by.
“Years ago we used to hear the log trucks. We had smell, sight and sound connected to this place. We heard the log trucks going at three o’clock in the morning, while we were making lunch for our husbands to get them out to work.
Up there on the mountain cutting logs or in the mill, you’d hear the equipment running. There were ashes falling down on us, wherever the wind was blowing. All those things that we had associated with this property. When the mill shut down, of course the economy of North Fork kind of went kaput. A lot of things closed. So we are very, very happy and very proud to be able to contribute to building this up. This is what Council is focused on. This is what we’re doing.”
Dan Rosenberg, president of the CDC, shared what the journey has been like.
“This is a great day. The CDC was started in 1994. Many of you are aware that we have had huge challenges here, not the least of which was cleaning up some soil, some buildings, setting the site to the point where you’re allowed to build something here. And that took the last 18 years.”
That may seem like a long time, but Rosenberg goes on to say, “At times it was very frustrating, and you’d lose your patience. But having spoken now to people and organizations around the state and the country that have done cleanups, they say ‘It only took 18 years? That’s incredible!'”
One of the reasons the process took so long was the millions of dollars required to clean up the site. The North Fork Community never gave up; they just kept taking the next step, and moving forward. “So through grants, through hard work and perseverance, we were able to do this. Our goal throughout was to get the site ready to have some things happen. And now, here we are, things are happening.”
The CDC is working on several projects, one of which is a new biomass energy plant which could potentially be located at the site.
“Using biomass from the forest would generate power, and also support loggers and people working in the forest,” says Rosenberg. “We’re working on a potential laundromat for the town, along with other projects.
“Everybody has contributed to us getting to this point. If you have a business in the valley or North Fork, we’ve got land in a beautiful town ready to go. Give us a call and we can make something happen here!”
Diann Miller, current Station Captain at Madera County Fire Station No. 11, has 25 plus years as a volunteer fireman, and is wanting to pass the hat. New volunteers and a new training facility would go a long way toward making that happen. For Miller, breaking ground on this new facility is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.
Augie Capuchino, a life-long resident of North Fork, former captian of the Volunteer Fire Department, and part time volunteer for 15 years, shared how it’s been in the current station, located below the North Fork Library.
“These last years I’ve seen rain water running through the fire station, mud holes in front of the squad bays, and experienced the strong odor of mold, all adding up to warning signs that said, ‘Do not enter our training room.'”
In the past, annual letters were sent out for community support to cover unmet needs by Madera County Fire. “After many a fire, I would bring reels of fire hose home to be cleaned and dried on my blacktop driveway,” said Capuchino.
With the condition of the fire station going from an irritant to an issue, Capuchino joined forces with Don Vasconcellos nine years ago to form the North Fork Fire Department Auxiliary, and began cooking up ways to raise money for a new facility. Dave Myers stepped in to serve as the liaison between the fire auxiliary and Station 11, and things began moving forward.
What began as a handful of people at their first meeting, has grown to over 120 strong, raising money through their much-anticipated chili cook-offs and tri-tip barbecues, T-shirt sales, and spring fundraising letters.
Then there was the hard work of Barbara Colliander and Sandy Chaille, making sure everyone has one of those now-familiar reflective green signs that help the fire department find us when we need them. “If we can’t find you, we can’t help you.” This slogan inspired lots of folks to get those house numbers out where they can be seen, and helped to raise thousands of dollars for the cause.
So this ground-breaking day at the Old Mill Site meant a whole lot to a whole lot of people. Once the accomplishment was celebrated and the dirt was thrown, everyone migrated down to the Town Hall for a BBQ lunch, provided by the Tribe. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the town of North Fork, the Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary, Madera County, the NF Community Development Council and The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, this project is now a reality, and construction on this much-needed new Fire Station is underway.