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Bond renewal would boost Fire District 4 training, services

With calls on the rise, firefighters in north Spokane County are asking voters to help improve response times and to better equip and train crews.

Spokane County Fire District 4 is asking voters in Tuesday’s election for a $9.6 million, 20-year bond to build three fire stations and a fire training center. The money also would update communication systems and provide new vehicles and equipment for crews.

If approved, two fire stations would be built on district-owned property in the area of Cooper Road and state Highway 206 and in the area of Elk-Chattaroy and Hamilton roads. The third would be on a yet-to-be-purchased property in the area of Deer Park.

The district currently covers roughly 330 square miles with crews responding from nine stations. The Deer Park and Elk-Chattaroy stations would replace existing stations, while the Cooper Road and Highway 206 station would be the district’s 10th station.

The bond, which must be passed by 60 percent of voters, would be paid back at the same property tax rate – $27 a year on a $100,000 home – as the district’s current bond, passed in 2000 and set to expire at the end of this year.

“It all ties back to the volume of calls and where they’re located,” said District 4 Fire Chief Randy Johnson.

The new Deer Park station, he said, would add more equipment, a second engine and a second crew to an area that often fields multiple calls simultaneously. In a year, the station responds to nearly half of all emergency calls in the district.

The number of runs per year increased 17 percent from 2009 to 2013, according to the district, which is on pace this year to top 3,000 runs – double the calls received in 2000.

In July, the district responded to an average of about 11 calls a day, Johnson said. District 4 was among the first responders last month when severe weather destroyed homes and knocked out power to much of the Spokane area.

“I’m hoping that trend doesn’t continue, but I don’t have any reason to believe it won’t,” he said.

The money also would fund construction of a fire training facility in a more central location for fire crews that operate in the north. Currently, the district shares a facility with District 9, which provides fire service to the area just south of District 4.

Training with District 9 “requires us to be out of position from some of our primary response areas,” Johnson said. “That’s quite a ways south for them to go.”

District 4 crews would still share that facility with the bond’s approval.

James Lahde, chair of the District 4 Board of Fire Commissioners, said the bond is a good deal for taxpayers because it “allows us to improve service to the area with increasing demands placed daily on our system.”

“I think we’ve been tight with our money, and we’ve provided quality service,” said Lahde, part of the three-member board that unanimously voted in May to put the proposal on the ballot. “We’ve stretched our dollar far.”

Currently, the district operates off two levies that total $210 a year on a $100,000 home. One funds emergency medical services, and one pays for general firefighting operations.