Public invited to grand opening
As the new fire station on Horizon Flat in Winthrop neared completion last week, the building was bustling as electricians hooked up communications equipment, fire district staff installed specialized washing machines for protective firefighter clothing, and technicians fine-tuned audiovisual equipment in a conference room.
The fire station was being readied for its grand opening on Saturday ( Aug. 27), when Okanogan County Fire District 6 welcomes the community to tour the new facility.
Completion of the new fire station is the culmination of years of effort by Okanogan Ciunty Fire District 6 to build a new station in Winthrop. With voter approval of a property tax levy increase in 2020, the station project began to move forward.
Tours & lunch
The grand opening of the new Winthrop station at 33 Horizon Flat Road begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday (Aug. 27). Tours of the new station and lunch will be provided after the ceremony. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org with the number of participants.
The district also received a $1.8 million grant from the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation for vocational training for firefighters, which was contingent upon passage of the levy request. About $650,000 of the grant could be used for the station construction, with the rest of the grant supporting a regional firefighting training center at the Winthrop station.
The ability to increase training opportunities for firefighters is one of the most exciting aspects of the nearly 12,000-square-foot facility, said John Owen, captain of the district’s Winthrop station and a volunteer with the fire district.
“It’s going to be a great resource for the community and the region,” Owen said during a tour of the fire station last week. “The Betti Foundation supports vocational training — in this case, for firefighters. We’re already getting inquiries” about training possibilities at the new station, he said.
Several features of the new station will facilitate increased training opportunities. A conference room can accommodate large groups attending trainings. The conference room will also be available for community meetings, such as briefings by incident management teams during wildfires, Owen said.
A library will provide access to the many specialized equipment manuals and training books firefighters must study to become certified or gain new skills. It will also provide high-speed internet and a flat screen television for video instruction.
“We almost always have a class being taught for new firefighters or for people advancing in their skills,” said Bruce Hevly, a lieutenant at the Winthrop station and volunteer firefighter.
The new station has two dormitory rooms that can accommodate up to eight firefighters who are manning the station, or who need to rest after responding to calls. The dorms can also house people attending training sessions. Trainings are often structured to take place over a weekend, and people who travel long distances to Winthrop for a training could use the dorm, Owen said.
The ability to provide firefighters a place to sleep on site is a first for the district. It means that firefighters staying at the station will be able to respond far more quickly to calls, and it opens new possibilities for training firefighters. “We plan to establish a residency program, with volunteers who are training and manning the station,” Owen said.
Fire District 6 has qualified instructors in its ranks, Owen said, and will host outside experts to conduct trainings in a variety of areas, from structural and wildland firefighting, to hazardous materials.
The district will install two additional modular buildings on the 5-acre property, with funding from the Betti Foundation, for classrooms and drills. As part of the training facility, a three-story tower will be erected to provide training in structural firefighting.
Adjacent to the conference room and the dormitories is a large kitchen and dining area, and a day room. In addition to accommodating people attending conferences and trainings, the kitchen/day room space will provide a place where firefighters can relax and unwind after the physical and emotional stress of responding to a call.
Studies have shown that the ability to “physically and mentally decompress” after a call is critical to firefighters’ well-bring, Owen said.
A workout area will also provide a place to wind down after a call, and to maintain fitness. The workout space doesn’t have any equipment yet, but the district is hoping to obtain fitness equipment through a grant, Owen said. The workout area could also be converted into a sleeping space for out-of-area firefighters during large wildfires, he said.
The station is divided into zones to safely address contamination that firefighters bring back with them from fires. The red zone is where all PPE (personal protective equipment) and gear is cleaned, decontaminated and stored. The zone includes rooms with specialized washing machines and dryers for the protective clothing worn by firefighters. It also includes areas for storing and refilling breathing air tanks, washing fire hoses, and repairing equipment.
The yellow zone includes two shower rooms and a rest area for firefighters to decompress after a fire. The rest of the building – offices, dorms, conference room – are in a green zone where “no dirty firefighters” are allowed to bring in potential contamination, Owen said.
The zones “are for firefighter safety and the safety of their families. We don’t want to bring any contamination home,” Owen said.
Room for vehicles
While all these features of the new building are a vast improvement over the district’s current Winthrop station, Owen and Hevly agreed that the most significant improvement is a cavernous space with eight bays for fire vehicles. The district will keep three engines, two water tenders, a brush truck and a support vehicle there.
The district will no longer have to store, wash or do maintenance on vehicles outside, which it had to do at the small station on Englar Street in Winthrop. The ceiling is high enough to allow firefighters to load hoses on the vehicles, and there is room for firefighters to safely move around the vehicles as they get ready to respond to a call.
Dangling from the high ceiling are large yellow hoses, which attach to the exhaust pipes of the vehicles to remove exhaust from the vehicle bays and protect firefighters from the risk of exposure to diesel fumes, “one of the main causes of cancer in firefighters,” Owen said.
On a wall of the vehicle bays are two large screens that will display real time information about a fire call, including location of the fire, which firefighters are responding, and location of fire hydrants.
A large paved parking area around the building will accommodate up to 50 cars, and will also provide space for training on fire apparatus. Higher than anticipated construction costs means that some planned landscaping around the property has been postponed.
The district plans to move its vehicles and equipment into the station by Saturday’s grand opening, and will begin responding to fires from that station. The new Winthrop station will become the fire district’s headquarters and includes an office for the district chief, who is now at the Twisp station. District 6 also has fire stations in Mazama and Carlton, to provide fire services from Gold Creek to Lost River, covering 300 square miles in the Methow Valley.