For more than a decade, Okanogan County Fire District 6 has been in some stage of planning for a new fire station in Winthrop, and discussion on the project continued this week.
At the request of fire district commissioners, Chief Cody Acord developed a needs assessment to evaluate what should be included in a new fire station. He presented a draft of the assessment to commissioners at their monthly meeting on Monday (Jan. 14).
Commissioners have been moving cautiously on planning for a new fire station, after the most recent plans failed when a proposed station was criticized by some district residents as too elaborate and expensive, and voters in 2014 defeated a property tax levy increase to fund construction.
The new station is needed “to meet the ever-increasing demands for emergency services in the district, save time and money in district operations, and improve the safety and wellbeing of the firefighters,” according to the project description in the draft needs assessment developed by Acord.
The preliminary assessment describes what should be included in a new station to address five primary needs — apparatus (fire truck) storage, operations, firefighter support, training, and administration. Among the assessment’s recommendations:
• The new station will need space to house six vehicles, with required clearance around trucks for firefighters to conduct safety checks, and designed for future expansion. Acord said the district currently must purchase “custom-made apparatus to fit into the existing bays” at the Englar Street station in Winthrop, which the district leases. That makes the trucks more expensive and still doesn’t meet clearance requirements.
• To support operations, a separate storage area should be provided for firefighter turnout gear to prevent contamination from fire scenes entering “clean” areas of the building. Also needed is a decontamination room to reduce firefighter exposure to toxins released during fires; maintenance areas for saws, fire hose and air packs; an area to store and fill breathing air bottles; a compressor area to maintain air systems on trucks; and a radio equipment room that could serve as an emergency communications room.
• Firefighter support should include a fitness training area and a food preparation area to cook food during and after nighttime incidents when stores and restaurants are closed. Sleeping quarters, restrooms and showers should be provided for firefighters who respond to fires in the middle of the night and for firefighters who volunteer to stay at the station to provide quick response. Volunteers providing shifts can help improve fire insurance ratings for the district, according to the assessment.
• Training needs include a meeting room with space to demonstrate equipment use and an audiovisual system. The space could also be used by the public for meetings. Outside training space needs to be large enough to provide training for wildland firefighting, driving instruction, vehicle extrication, hose deployment and handling, water supply and hydrant operations, and ladder operations. The state fire rating agency recommends a two-acre paved area for training, the assessment said.
• Administration needs include secure storage for personnel information, a library for equipment and training manuals and on-line training courses, and space for work and study. A growing number of volunteers are telecommuters who could work while being on hand to respond to calls, the assessment said.
Acord said he developed the draft assessment with input from firefighters and staff, and information from TCA Architecture, a Seattle firm that specializes in municipal buildings, including fire stations. Commissioners Jerry Palm and Les Stokes said they wanted time to review the assessment. Commissioner Darold Brandenberg was not at the meeting.
In response to questions from some citizens at the meeting, commissioners said they don’t know what the costs of the building would be. “We’re trying to keep it, I think, around $3 million,” Palm said. He said commissioners would be open to the idea, proposed by one speaker, of an independent financial analysis to help determine what the district can afford.
Acord said the district is also getting close to completing a State Environmental Policy Act assessment for the Horizon Flats property, which is required before the 5-acre parcel can be developed. During the past two years a citizen advisory committee appointed by the commissioners evaluated numerous potential sites for a fire station in the Winthrop area. In November, commissioners concluded that the property owned by the district on Horizon Flats was the best choice.