The Spokane Valley Fire commissioners reconvened their meeting Monday afternoon when Spokane Valley City Councilman Dean Grafos asked for an “informal” discussion with the commissioners after they announced they would have a short executive session and then close the meeting.
Grafos attended the entire meeting and said nothing when commissioners asked for public comment, but after Grafos’ request the meeting was reopened to allow Grafos to comment. Grafos, who is up for re-election in November, said he wasn’t there for a political speech but wanted to address allegations that he had “supposedly questioned the integrity of the department.”
He said he was aware that two of the commissioners have made financial contributions to his opponent, John Carroll. “This is bigger than politics,” he said.
Spokane Valley Fire Station 1 is on the one-way section of Sprague Avenue just west of University Road, which creates a one-minute-and-20-second delay when firefighters respond to calls to the east of the station because they must circle to the west before they can go in the right direction. The topic has come up again recently during discussions on putting the one-way couplet issue on the November ballot. During a council meeting in August, Grafos said if there was really a public safety issue with response times, the department would move the station.
On Monday Grafos asked the commissioners why they didn’t include a new Station 1 in a 2007 bond issue that was approved by voters. “Why wasn’t action taken?” he said.
The department had other, larger problems it needed to fix first, said Commissioner Bill Anderson. With that bond issue the department built Station 8 near Pines Road and Mansfield Avenue to serve an area that had very high response times. The department also built Stations 9 and 10 to address similar issues in those areas.
“We had holes in our level of coverage,” said Commissioner Monte Nesbitt. “We had to fill those first.”
The department had looked into options to reduce response times at Station 1 over the years and did at one time consider moving, but the cost of that option was too high. “We were under the impression that something was going to be worked out,” Nesbitt said.
Grafos said the department should use a device that allows them to control traffic lights. “Why can’t we do something simple like that?” he said.
Fire trucks would still have to circle west to get to the first traffic light at University and Sprague, said Fire Chief Mike Thompson. “That’s not the problem,” he said. “It’s the distance,” Anderson said.
Deputy Chief Larry Rider said all the fixes the department has looked at require funding. Over the years the department has also had to wait for various political decisions. The Sprague/Appleway Revitalization Plan was passed after years of discussion. It called for returning that section of road to two-way. But shortly after it was enacted a new council was elected and the department had to wait and see if the plan would be eliminated. Now the department has to wait and see the results of the November ballot question on one-way versus two-way. “Each time it just keeps being pushed down the road,” Rider said. “There’s always one more thing.”
“I think the options will become clearer after Nov. 8,” Grafos said.
Thompson said his staff is still working with city staff to come up with a solution. “We’re still working through some of the options,” he said.