A new volunteer fire station in North Fork -- a community goal many years in the making -- is now a reality, celebrated May 10 with more than 100 people during a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting for Station 11.
"What a neat thing to be standing here after all these years -- it's unbelievable," said District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler during the ceremony. "This project has been a community collaborative effort."
The new 3,200 square-foot station -- also the first building to be constructed on North Fork's old mill site in 40 years -- was made possible by more than $1 million in funds, including contributions from Madera County ($400,000), the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians ($496,000), North Fork Community Development Council (donated 2.69 acres with an assessed value of $97,428), the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary ($67,754), Madera County Fire Department ($3,381), equipment and labor from Cal Fire, along with support from many other agencies, groups and volunteer organizations.
"North Fork was in desperate need of a new fire station, and together the community was able to give them just that," said Wheeler previously.
The new Station 11, located at 33400 Douglas Ranger Station Road, includes two drive-through bays, a bathroom, a reception/office area, and space for three fire apparatus.
Wheeler recalled the old Station 11 beneath the North Fork library as being in desperate need of repairs and upgrades, and said hopefully the new station will attract more paid-call firefighters to join the station's nine volunteers.
Elaine Bethel-Fink, tribal chairperson of the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians, also stressed the collaborative nature of North Fork in her praise of the station's construction, hailing the power of the community to come together to create something for the betterment of all. She said in some places there is division amongst a community, but "not in North Fork."
"It's always a community effort, and I thank everyone," said Bethel-Fink. "This project will help everyone in the community, Indian and non-Indian."
The tribe's $496,000 contribution to the station -- one of many community donations they've made over the years -- came from an Indian Community Development Block Grant, and the tribe also obtained land to build needed senior and social services facilities for tribal members.
Wheeler said the new station is "just the beginning" of more buildings to come on the old North Fork mill site after many years of work and about $3 million in clean up efforts to ready the contaminated area for new construction.
"It starts with one building, and then the rest start coming," he said.
"It's been 19 years since the closing of the mill," said Dan Rosenberg, president of the North Fork Community Development Council. "This station's dedication is a symbol of cooperation between the entire community of North Fork and the county and state, and we should applaud ourselves for being able to accomplish this. We're a community that says not only, 'Yes we can,' but, 'Yes we will, and yes we have.'"
Since the mill closed in 1994, the development council and its local partners have been working to bring business back to the old mill site. Their remediation efforts included the removal of some buildings, underground fuel tanks and soil cleanup of the site -- efforts paid by grants and loans from various agencies.
"It's amazing what we can all do when we have a common goal," said Sandy Chaille, president of the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary, made up of 123 supporting members who have worked tirelessly for many years to raise $67,754 for the fire department and new station.
"The community has been so supportive of this effort over the years," stated Chaille in a press release. "I can't say enough about our folks. They have been extremely generous, constant in their support, and excited that we, as a community, have accomplished that which some thought impossible."
"This will help us grow and move forward into the future," said Diann Miller, captain of Station 11.
"It's not very often that you get a fire station built," said Nancy Koerperich, Cal Fire unit chief for the Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit. "There is a lot that goes into it, and it really is a collaborative effort ... a group of individuals get together, and you meet a need."