Money tied to voter approval of levy for new firehouse
Plans to build a new fire station in Winthrop just got a major financial boost.
Okanogan County Fire District 6 learned last month that it will receive a $1.8 million grant to create a training program at the new station for existing and aspiring firefighters — if voters approve funding for the station.
Fire Chief Cody Acord announced the grant award at the Aug. 12 meeting of district fire commissioners.
The grant, from the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation of Lacey, includes $1.3 million for “the most up-to-date training materials, equipment and facilities for today’s structure, wildland firefighting and wildland-urban interface environment,” Acord said.
Since the program would be housed at a new, 11,954-square-foot fire station on Horizon Flats Road in Winthrop, the grant will be awarded only if voters approve a property-tax levy for building construction, Acord said. Fire commissioners are expected to place the levy on the ballot sometime in 2020.
After outlining the grant, Acord introduced Sandy Mackie, a Betti Foundation trustee. The meeting room, filled with about 25 fire district supporters, erupted in applause.
“We are very pleased to make this grant,” said Mackie, an attorney who practices in the valley. “We hope that we’re able to follow through and carry this out, and this becomes a magnet for volunteers and other fire people to come to the Methow Valley.”
The Betti Foundation supports vocational education in small communities. That the grant would support firefighter training in the Methow Valley is particularly apt, said Mackie, who moved here with his wife in 2008.
“I’ve seen what happens when the fire alarm goes off,” he said.
A portion of the grant, $500,000 of the $1.8 million, would be set aside as an endowment to help maintain the program. The endowment would earn an estimated $30,000 a year in investment income. Some of these earnings might support a scholarship for high school students who seek a career in firefighting. No decisions have been made yet about how to spend the endowment funds.
A preliminary budget for the $1.3 million, included as part of the grant application, includes money to help pay for construction of the fire station. The budget also includes a 2-acre outdoor training area on the fire station property. The budget sets aside money for the salary of a lead trainer, who would run the program, and for housing as many as four trainees in the new station’s dormitory.
The grant application also mentions about $187,000 for the purchase and operation of firefighting drones. The drones could be used in many ways, from giving a birds-eye view of wildland fire behavior to retransmitting a weak cell phone signal to firefighters on the ground.
The training program would offer eight different firefighting certifications, including structural firefighting, wildland firefighting, hazardous materials awareness and a drone pilot’s license.
As with the endowment, no decisions have been made on how the $1.3 million portion of the grant would be spent. In fact, fire commissioners haven’t even accepted the grant yet. First, officials from the fire district, the foundation and the Community Foundation of North Central Washington must finalize a contract governing management of the funds. The Community Foundation will handle the grant for the fire district.
The contract should be in place by the end of the year, according to the July 24 award letter to the fire district from foundation President Stan Hill.
Since some of the grant money may be used for building construction, fire commissioners could reduce the amount of money they would ask voters to approve in a property-tax ballot measure, Acord said in an interview.
The latest cost estimate for construction of the new station is $3.85 million. The commissioners have options for reducing the building’s cost, such as replacing concrete-block walls with wood-frame construction. Commissioner Darold Brandenburg said at the Aug. 12 meeting that he will seek a more refined estimate from the architect.
Hoping to make progress toward finalizing plans for the building, commissioners have called for a special meeting on Monday (Aug. 26), to further discuss the new station. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Twisp fire station, 434 Second Ave.