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Sprague/Appleway slows fire response

A citywide vote could delay changes to streets

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the Sprague/Appleway couplet, and it’s apparently not only the business community that has issues with it.

Last week Spokane Valley Fire Department commissioners expressed concern about the one-way couplet and how it is impacting their response times. The topic came up during a lengthy meeting that covered everything from next year’s budget to the department’s plans for the next several years.

Fire engines leaving Station 1 across from the old University City Mall have to head west on Sprague Avenue. If a call is actually to the east, the engine has to essentially circle a very large block to get headed in the right direction. That has added a minute and 20 seconds to those calls, said Deputy Chief Larry Rider.

That lost time can be critical if a patient is not breathing. “We know brain death starts between six and eight minutes,” said Chief Mike Thompson. “That doesn’t give us a lot of time when you whack off a minute and 20 seconds.”

Like business owners, the department assumed a fix was on the way when the previous city council stated in the Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan that the couplet would go back to two-way roads between University and Argonne roads. But the topic was recently reopened by the new city council amid discussions of bringing the couplet issue to a public vote. “Now it looks like it might be significantly delayed,” said Thompson.

“I think we need to interject ourselves into that debate,” said Rider.

Commissioner Joe Dawson suggested sharing the response time information with the council. “They probably don’t realize that,” he said. Commissioner Monte Nesbitt agreed. “We’ve got to get some answers,” he said. “I don’t think they realize the significance of it.”

The city is also causing a hitch in the department’s plans to replace Station 6 located just east of the Sprague and Interstate 90 interchange. Rider said he has been discussing with city staff the need to have the city vacate a portion of Eastern Road south of the current station so a new station can be built. But Rider said he has been told that the city doesn’t want to do that until the entire SARP issue is decided in case the city might need that land.

The problem is that station construction is planned in about two years and the department needs to know if it can move forward, Rider said. “We’ve been waiting for answers for three years,” he said. “We’ve got to get past this. I would hate to build a fire station and have the city come through and condemn it 18 months later because they need to build a road.”

The station is old and small and needs to be replaced. “We have fire apparatus that won’t fit in that facility,” Rider said.

Other than those issues, the department’s building and truck purchasing plans are proceeding as scheduled. There are plans to buy new pumper trucks in 2012 and 2013 and a new ladder truck in 2014. The ladder truck will not have a pump on it, which will require the department to pull a pumper out of reserve and station it with the new ladder truck, Rider said.

Dawson asked why the ladder truck couldn’t have a pump. “It’s going to be too heavy,” said Rider, pointing out the weight restrictions on several bridges. “We have weight issues.”

In addition to a new Station 6 in 2012 or 2013, the department also has plans to replace Station 3 in Liberty Lake in 2014. But the most immediate construction project is a new administration building located next to Station 8 on Wilbur Road just north of the freeway. The building plans are in the final stages and Rider said he hopes to have the project out to bid after Thanksgiving. “We’re down to toilet paper holders,” he said. “We’re trying to get it ready to go out the door.”

But an unexpected project has come up that Rider hopes to be able to include in the administration building bid. “We ran into a little glitch,” he said. “Our burn room fell apart.”

The burn room is part of the training tower on Sullivan Road that allows fires to be lit inside it so firefighters can train. Rider recommended building a more “disposable” burn room with a protected concrete roof and pillars with masonry walls that can be easily fixed or replaced. Doing it that way instead of trying to make an entire room fire proof will cost about $500,000, he said. “It saves lots and lots and lots of money,” he said. “It’s something we needed to do. Now is the time to do it.”

Thompson gave a report to the commissioners about the status of the department’s 2011 budget. Assessed property values are down 1.8 percent, so revenue will be fairly flat. The department had previously discussed hiring a training officer, a fire inspector, a community affairs officer and an administrative battalion chief in 2011. Thompson said that while he believes the positions are all necessary, the department should hold off on making any new hires next year.

“I tend to agree with you, Chief,” said Commissioner Bob Anderson. “I say hold off on that.” The other commissioners concurred. “There are some things in doubt,” said Nesbitt.

None of the construction or engine purchasing plans will require additional staff. “We made the plan staffing neutral,” Rider said. “As of today, we’re doing fine.”

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