WHEN A FIRE OR TRAFFIC EMERGENCY OCCURS IN OR NEAR A SELF-STORAGE FACILITY, most would respond with a 9-1-1 call. But Golden State Self Storage in Santa Clarita, Calif., has gone one step further: The facility can instantly respond to emergencies with, not one, but two small fire stations on its premises.
Resident managers Christina Leland and Steven Dornhuber were assigned to the Southern California site in October 1999. There are 690 units in phases I and II of the facility, some containing motor vehicles, boats, miscellaneous watercraft and motorcycles. Storage of any hazardous or flammable material is strictly prohibited and vigorously enforced by on-site personnel. "We developed the program after the facility's second emergency occurred in 2000, and we realized how important is it to be ready to respond to any emergency," says Leland.
With the support of the facility's owner, Ojai Oil Co., Leland and Dornhuber brainstormed a small-version fire department manned with a trained and certified brigade available on the premises 24 hours a day. The system consists of a fire and first-aid station with emergency-response wagons in each phase of the facility. "We were able to build the fire-brigade system for less than $6,000," says Leland.
She and Dornhuber, her husband, developed unique emergency-response wagons, adding equipment as they saw the need or learned of new products. Although they do not resemble their larger cousin, the conventional hook-and ladder truck, the small wagons carry a full complement of emergency-response equipment. Built on trailers that can easily be parked in one of the storage units, each wagon can be towed by the facility's golf cart or pulled by hand. But make no mistake--the units are equipped to handle nearly every kind of emergency a large fire brigade can.
The emergency apparatus at fire and rescue station No.1 consists of two rescue/emergency wagons, a fire-patrol wagon, a brigade-chief emergency wagon and all adjunctive equipment. Fire station No. 2 has two rescue/emergency units and a fire ground-lighting platform. Two-way radios allow staff to communicate during an emergency. As part of the fire station's design, all water sources are vividly marked in blue and all power, natural-gas and water shut-offs are marked with red reflectors.
The facility's emergency-response capability goes one step further--into the air. Near the main entrance for phase II, a helicopter emergency-landing zone is designated for any Los Angeles County fire or sheriff air unit. Golden State's fire-brigade personnel are trained in helo-flight operations and safety and are fully equipped to recover and launch aircraft.
"We respond to an average of four to six emergency-response calls per month, with the summer months being somewhat higher," says Leland. Calls range from traffic accidents, vehicle fires, trash fires and adjacent brush fires to gas leaks and spills and HazMat incidents.
Preparedness, training and equipment maintenance are vital parts of the facility's program. "How we respond to things like earthquakes, major fires, automobile accidents, power failures and blackouts is critical," Leland says. "We develop response-action plans for every conceivable thing we can dream up--even terrorist action."
All new employees have 90 days after their date of hire to become certified members of the community emergency-response team (CERT), which means they must take classes in first-aid, CPR and automatic external defibrillators. Leland is a certified emergency- medical technician, but her education is ongoing. Frequently, she takes courses on emergency management and HazMat incidents and, in July, she took a terrorist-action response and Federal Emergency Management Agency course for animal emergencies.
The staff does not sit back and wait for an emergency to learn what to do. "We regularly train and drill for emergencies," she says. "This maintains everyone's focus on the importance of our mission, which is to protect life and property." Leland admits she gets a great feeling when she sees employees and procedures come together during a drill or actual emergency. And customers are not immune from learning about the drill. "When they check in, we give every customer a fire-safety briefing," Leland says.
The benefits of having such a dedicated on-site ability to withstand emergencies are not just for the customer. Insurance companies welcome this and, in some cases, pass on the savings to the owners in the way of lowered premiums, Leland asserts. "That in itself could pay for your own department and pave the way to a safer self-storage facility."
City, county and other fire districts hail the facility's program as one that stands alone in its dedication to fire/safety protection. Community firemen are so impressed with Golden State's stations and its commitment to emergency response that several store their personal goods at the facility.
And a major bonus, one the facility's owners and managers fully appreciate, is the fire station is the best sales tool the facility can have. The facility has an average occupancy rate of 99.5 percent. "What a difference it makes to your clientele when they know you are prepared for any disaster," Dornhuber concludes. "A trend of today's managers is to be prepared for any emergencies. You never know what's going to happen in the world today."
Although Ojai Oil Co. has been in businesses since the late 1800s and owns several self-storage facilities in Southern California, Golden State, with its very own fire brigade, is probably the most unusual. For more information, call 661.252.4884; visit www.goldenstatestorage.com/santags.htm.