Last winter, the East Side Fire District kept its water tanker parked outside a firefighter’s home, a livestock water heater stuck in the tank to keep it from freezing.
Firefighters’ “turnout” suits were stashed in people’s homes. A fire commissioner’s garage served as storage space for spare hoses and gear.
On Saturday, the unusual fledgling fire district will dedicate its first fire station, finished with volunteer labor on donated land.
“People in the beginning said ‘they can’t succeed. They’re just a bunch of dummies,”’ said Reed Simpson, president of the fire district board. “Now we have trained people, trucks and a fire station. It’s real.”
The new station, near Carlin Bay, covers 2,500 square feet and cost about $50,000 to build, he said. The station will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a ribboncutting at 1 p.m. It’s located at 1595 E. Elk Road, near Carlin Bay on state Highway 97.
The district was formed after voters on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene had repeatedly quashed attempts to annex into a Kootenai County fire district.
Many of the lakeside homeowners are parttime residents, spending most of their time at other homes in Spokane or Coeur d’Alene. They couldn’t vote on the East Side district, although they owned property there.
“Most of the people moving in or who live out of state are used to having fire protection,” Simpson said. “They’ve been frustrated at not being able to get it.”
Finally, just 26 landowners decided to form their own district.
“We were unwilling to wait for a disaster to happen,” Simpson said.
The Idaho Department of Lands donated a 1972 military surplus fire truck. It has since donated the 26-year-old water tanker and a pickup truck with pumps and hoses.
Local property owners loaned the district $10,000, since its share of property taxes didn’t come in until this January. Fire training was donated by several area fire departments.
A Department of Agriculture grant paid for firefighters’ turnouts. Air tanks came used from the Sandpoint Fire Department, which traded them to East Side for some tire chains.
“A lot of it has been deal-making,” chuckled Simpson.
It’s worked. The department now has more than two dozen volunteer firefighters. In the 18 months since the district formed, property owners in the district have risen from 26 to 965.
The district is apparently unique in Idaho, because not all of the parcels are contiguous. Property owners who ask to join are annexed into the district, one at a time.
District property owners pay an annual fee for the fire protection. The fire district levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home, for example, $160 per year.
“We have probably the only taxing district in Idaho where 100 percent of the people in it have asked to be in it,” Simpson said.
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