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Firefighting Force to Be Cut at Naval Weapons Station : Defense: One of two engine companies at the base will be demobilized. Officials say safety will not be compromised.

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The U.S. Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach will lose one of two fire engine companies in November due to Defense Department cutbacks, leaving four firefighters and a single fire engine to protect about 100 buildings on the 5,000-acre base.

About 75 of the buildings, used for the storage of shells, missiles and other munitions, have no sprinkler systems, but city and station officials said sufficient firefighting help exists.

Weapons station Lt. Cmdr. Don Oswald said the availability of county firefighters was a significant factor in the decision to cut firefighting operations at the base in half. A Navy fire marshal visited the weapons station on Aug. 16 and determined the reduction would be safe.

“The fire marshal was very adamant that he felt very comfortable that we could safely respond to emergencies here,” Oswald said.

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Oswald would not say if nuclear weapons are stored at the Naval base, but he said the primary mission of the weapons station is to store conventional weapons.

Riley Dawson, assistant fire chief at the weapons base since 1985, said federal defense cuts leave local military bases with little choice but to skinny down most operations.

“It’s not up to us anymore,” Dawson said. “It’s something we’re going to have to live with. It’s manageable.”

Mayor George Brown said, “We hate to see any of the units go, but we have no control over what happens there. We haven’t had anything serious happen there in a long time and we hope nothing will happen.”

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The last fire at the naval weapons station was in October, 1992, when a tractor-trailer filled with ammunition was ignited by a flare, causing minor injuries to two men. The fire was extinguished in 30 minutes and 10 county Fire Department engines were called to the scene, but not used.

Earlier this month, one of the four weapons station firefighters whose jobs will be eliminated on Nov. 18, said the cutbacks could create safety problems if there were multiple emergencies at the naval installation.

But Seal Beach Councilwoman Marilyn Bruce Hastings said the safety record of the weapons station has been exemplary.

“I cannot believe in my heart that the United States Navy would ever leave one of their weapons stations vulnerable,” Hastings said. “These people are thoughtful people--they’re not going to do that.”

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