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San Pablo Fire Station #70: Newest Fire Station silently echoes the symbolism and character of the mythical Phoenix

By Karen F. Walker

Located at the corner of 23rd Street and Market Avenue in the City of San Pablo, Fire Station 70 stands as a silent testament to the Phoenix-like power of rising from destructive earthquake ashes, overcoming economic hardship and ultimately honoring the Fallen who gave their lives while saving others.

“Station 70 is a highly sought-after station to work,” says Fire Captain Chris Toler. “Many of the firefighters working at 70 grew up in and around the West County and want to make a difference in the community in which they were raised.”

Phoenix Rising

Ancient legend tells of the magical and majestic Phoenix bird that is said to live for several hundred years before dying in a burst of flames. After death it is reborn, rising from the ashes to start a new, long life. 

In the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, you may remember that San Pablo Fire Station 70 was severely damaged. 

A temporary station was set-up nearby on San Pablo Avenue, comprised of what some described in various news articles as “inadequate and aging” modular buildings. But that temporary station was never meant to endure for 32 years!

Finally, in 2021, Fire Station 70 rose from the ashes, newer, bigger, built to last and state-of-the-art in every way. 

Innovative and Purposeful Design 

“Designed with cancer prevention in mind,” the Contra Costa Herald reported in 2021 that “the new station includes gross decontamination showers, turnout extractors, a decontamination sauna and modern systems for extraction of diesel exhaust particulates.”

“Its design delineates ‘clean and dirty’ spaces with the aim of keeping potential carcinogens out of living quarters,” explained Chief Lewis Broschard III, in The Richmond Standard. “This station will better support our firefighters, allow for a better quality of life, promoting health, training and community interaction in the immediate area of Station 70 and neighboring communities.”

Since space is a premium in downtown San Pablo, the 15,000-square-foot building required two stories. A forward-thinking design approach led to the inclusion of extensive training props for crew-training opportunities such as ladder work, rappelling and indoor, all-weather training. This enables Station 70 fire fighters to stay on top of their training and fire-fighting skills without having to travel to the County’s Concord-based training facility for every training exercise. 

“The new station 70 can accommodate a ladder truck and is more centrally located,” adds Captain Toler. “This allows us to provide an even greater service to the San Pablo community. 

With three large bays, this station was also intentionally built to meet the highest modern earthquake standards, ensuring it can provide the best possible disaster preparedness and response, and suitable to serve as a Command Post in disaster response if needed.

Rising above Economic Hardship

32 years is a long, long time to wait for a permanent fire station to be built. What took so long? In short, lean funds and economic hardship.

"The Great Recession shattered county finances, putting on hold many capital expenditures, including the rebuild of the San Pablo fire station,” reports Bay City News in an April 11, 2021, article.

In 2014, San Pablo taxpayers voted to increase sales tax one-quarter of a percent to sustain emergency medical services in perpetuity, allowing for the City of San Pablo to collaborate with the Contra Costa County Fire Prevention District (Contra Costa Fire) to absorb some of the construction cost and move the project forward.

Fire Station 70 cost $14 million to construct, a joint effort between County and City, with the City of San Pablo contributing $4.5 million to the project. That said, it is part of Contra Costa Fire rather than the City of San Pablo.

And just in case you’re wondering, even though it is is part of Contra Costa Fire, Fire Station 70 has as its first priority the City of San Pablo and the surrounding communities with both emergency medical service (EMS) and fire calls.  

Honoring Two Local, Fallen Firefighter Heroes

Fire Station 70 is named the Captain Matthew Burton and Engineer Scott Desmond Memorial Station in recognition of two Contra Costa Fire firefighters who lost their lives in the early morning hours of July 21, 2007, while attempting to rescue a couple trapped inside their burning San Pablo house. 

The tragedy was the worst in Contra Costa Fire’s history. Extensive follow-up investigations resulted in multiple procedural changes to ensure this type of tragedy never happens again.

Ongoing Opportunities to Serve

“Contra Costa Fire is always looking for eager men and women to join the District, not only as firefighters but for many of our other positions in fleet, admin and dispatch,” says Captain Toler. For more information, go to

Karen Walker is executive producer of The Mentors Radio (, which airs Saturdays in the greater San Francisco Bay area and on iHeart Radio.

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