As the region enters the hottest, driest season, southern Stevens County has two new fire stations to help keep on top of danger.
Stevens County Fire District 1 Fire Chief Mike Bucy welcomed dozens of community members to an open house earlier this summer to celebrate the opening of the district’s Station 8 in Suncrest as well as a new Station 2 on state Highway 292 in Loon Lake.
Station 8, which is near Lakeside High School, is 12,500 square feet and has five truck bays, three of which are drive-through bays. The building also includes a conference room, a decontamination room, a workout room, a full kitchen, a living room and offices.
Bucy said some people have been concerned that the station is too big.
“The idea is, it was built for the future,” he said. “I’ve been the victim of having a new building that was too small when we moved in. We didn’t want that.”
The conference room will be used for fire commissioner meetings, which used to be held in the truck bay at Station 4. The room will also be available for community use.
There are also eight bunk rooms that allow the volunteer firefighters on the night shift to sleep at the station instead of responding from their homes. Bucy said firefighters already have seen an improvement in response times since they moved into the new station in mid-May.
“Our response times are down two-and-a-half, three minutes,” he said. “We expect that to go down further. That’s a huge drop.”
Both stations were paid for by a $6.5 million bond approved by voters in 2016. A previous bond effort failed and years of planning went into the second bond attempt that proved successful.
Construction was awarded in a public bidding process to KLC Construction in August 2017. Station 2’s construction was budgeted at about $3.5 million, with Station 8 anticipated to cost $3.2 million.
The need for new stations has been apparent for years, district officials say. Mark Beck, who was the district’s fire chief from 2007 to 2010, got the process started. When he arrived, Station 8 only had room for two trucks, a small office and a small bathroom. There were no sleeping quarters.
“These places were designed just as somewhere to park a truck,” he said. “The volunteers did a remarkable job with what they had.”
Modern fire trucks, including water tenders, would not fit inside the building and the district had to be careful when ordering new vehicles, Beck said.
“It’s embarrassing to buy a truck and then not be able to close the doors,” he said.
The original plan was to replace the 38-year-old Station 8 on the same site, but Bucy said it became clear that the building wouldn’t fit. The opportunity arose to buy three acres just down the road for $100,000 from Hank Dias, who developed the Suncrest Outpost. Bucy said the sale price was a substantial discount on the commercial property fronting the highway.
“That’s a donation to the community, not the fire district,” Bucy said. “To get this property was absolutely astounding. I couldn’t pick a better spot.”
The building and parking lot take up about two acres, leaving space for helicopters to land on the east side. Suitable helicopter landing zones are few and far between in Suncrest, Bucy said.
“That’s probably going to be our primary landing spot for Life Flight,” he said. “It beats going to the high school and finding the football team on the field practicing.”
The new Station 2 in Loon Lake has the same floor plan as Station 8, with the exception of an additional 2,200 square feet for the district’s administrative offices. The offices used to be in triple-wide trailers in Clayton, a temporary solution that had become permanent.
Making the floor plan of the two stations the same was a cost-saving measure, Bucy said. The district also bought furniture and other items from state surplus when they could.
“We tried to be very frugal and efficient with the money entrusted to us,” he said.
The district uses Deer Park Ambulance to transport patients and there’s room at both new stations for an ambulance and crew to be stationed there, Bucy said. “That is a priority of mine,” he said.
Now that the new stations have room for modern fire equipment, Bucy said the district just purchased two new water tenders to be based at the new stations. They won’t be delivered until March or April, but the district will have a total of six water tenders when they arrive. They serve a vital role in getting water to fires in rural areas without fire hydrants.
Bucy said he’s also lined up 10 volunteers who will do nothing but drive the water tenders, freeing up firefighters to help on the fire lines.
Firefighter Jared Wehde, who worked out of the old Station 8 for five months, is pleased with the new station. “It’s a huge upgrade,” he said.
There was simply no room at the old station and the paid firefighters who work doing the day worked out of the cramped truck bay. “There was no separation between you and the trucks and they’re diesel trucks,” he said.
It’s also been great to have the night shift volunteers physically at the station, he said. “It lets us build relationships with each other,” he said. “We talk to each other, have meals together, coffee together.”
The biggest impact, however, has been the lower response times as a result of having the stations staffed 24 hours a day, he said.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It saves lives when it comes down to it.”
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