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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Early ESFD commissioner stepping down


Basil Mercer, a founding commissioner on the East Side Fire District board, stands next to one of the department's trucks. 
 (Photo courtesy of East Side Fire District / The Spokesman-Review)
Basil Mercer, a founding commissioner on the East Side Fire District board, stands next to one of the department's trucks. (Photo courtesy of East Side Fire District / The Spokesman-Review)

It started in 1993 with a group of concerned property owners on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene recognizing the need for fire protection. Basil Mercer, 78, was there from the beginning as a charter member and original commissioner of the East Side Fire District.

Mercer is retiring from his unpaid volunteer position after 12 years. The firefighters, commissioners and all those who appreciate what he has done will honor Mercer Sunday with a farewell banquet.

Mercer has been on the fire prevention co-op that educates students about fire safety, and he has represented ESFD at regional emergency services meetings and at meetings of the Kootenai County Fire Chiefs, and North Idaho Chiefs associations.

ESFD’s protection extends from Beauty Bay Creek south to the Coeur d’Alene River, just before the town of Harrison.

The Idaho Department of Lands agreed that there was a need for a district from Wolf Lodge to the Coeur d’Alene River, but property owners voted down the idea, Mercer said. However, Reed Simpson, who actually formed the district, found a loophole in Idaho law and persuaded the state Tax Commission to allow creation of a patchwork district of noncontiguoous properties.

Much has changed in the past 12 years.

“It’s become less of a puzzle-district,” Mercer said. “The district is becoming more contiguous as more land is annexed in.”

Mercer said that a new development to be built at Moscow Bay has already been approved for annexation by the ESFD commissioners and that the huge Gozzer Ranch development will also be facing annexation.

“They both say they will be gated communities with a golf course,” said Kathy Flint, ESFD secretary.

The district’s first firehouse at Carlin Bay was built by volunteers and opened in the spring of 1995. The first engine, a military surplus hand-me-down, was housed in the garage of Mercer’s home above Squaw Bay before the Carlin Bay station was finished.

To keep the engine available, Mercer and his wife, Eleanor, would drive it when they went to events within the district. If they were going to be out of town, they would drive the engine to someone else’s home so it wouldn’t be out of service.

The district has two more fire stations now – the Arrow Point Station and one at the south end of the lake near Powderhorn Bay. In 1997 ESFD reached an agreement with the Kootenai County Fire Protection District to staff the Arrow Point station and to be the first responders for KCFPD properties in their area. Powderhorn was added in 2000.

Volunteer Bob Tjossem said ESFD has two new class A engines equipped with everything that a modern nonvoluntary department has. He said the pumps are computerized and “thoroughly modern.” ESFD obtained a new fireboat in 2001, a 25-foot Odyssey pontoon boat outfitted to pump 650 gallons per minute with the ability to throw water more than 200 feet.

Mercer said one of the new engines is at Arrow Point, while the other is at Carlin Bay. ESFD has also added brush trucks that carry approximately 300 gallons of water and foam.

Mercer worked as a chemist before his volunteer firefighting career. He went to work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation right after he graduated from the University of Portland in 1949. From 1965 to 1982 he worked for Battelle Northwest Laboratories, which provided research and development at Hanford.

Mercer plans to work around the house now, spend time with Eleanor and travel more to see their kids. It may not be quite as exciting as riding on a fire engine, but Mercer said he is content with his choice.

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