Newman Lake Fire and Rescue is moving forward with plans to build a storage building and a fire training tower thanks to a low-interest loan from Spokane County.
The money for the $300,000 loan comes from a reserve account managed by Spokane County that provides loans to local agencies through the Local Direct Investment Program. The money will be repaid over five years.
The fire district has never had a burn tower and hopes to create one that will be used by fire departments and districts from throughout the region, said Fire Chief Stan Cooke. It will also provide an important boost to the training the district’s volunteer firefighters receive.
“The requirement for being an interior firefighter is that you have to have a live burn every three years,” Cooke said. “There were firefighters here who hadn’t had one in 10.”
There are burn towers operated by the Spokane Fire Department and the Spokane Valley Fire Department, but it is difficult to arrange to use those facilities because they are so far away from Newman Lake, Cooke said. A training session typically involves a dozen firefighters and the district only has 20.
“It empties our district when we take all our people down to get the training,” he said. “That leaves a hole here.”
The new additions will be located on vacant land the district owns adjacent to Station 1 at 9324 N. Starr Road. A four-bay storage building will be built to the north to house the district’s rescue boat, ATV, spare water tender and other equipment. The new burn tower will go on the east side of the station.
Cooke said getting the loan allows the district to get all the work done at once instead of in phases. The work will be paid for without dipping into the district’s reserve fund significantly.
“I’m being fiscally responsible to get what we need now, that we needed 10 years ago, and still protect my reserve,” he said.
The other burn towers in the area are relatively simple concrete buildings. Cooke said he’s going to have their tower built out of Conex containers.
“That’s less expensive than a concrete facility,” he said.
A concrete burn tower also has a set floor plan that is easily memorized after a few training sessions, Cooke said. The tower he wants built will be unique because of a design that uses moveable walls.
“I can change all the floor plans,” he said. “There’s probably 50 ways to get to that fire.”
Cooke said he’s already begun getting inquiries from local fire districts excited about using the burn tower when it’s finished. Those districts include Kootenai County Fire and Rescue and the Hauser Lake Fire Protection District, both of which are assisted by Newman Lake Fire and Rescue through mutual aid agreements and vice versa. Cooke said it will be advantageous for the crews to train together, becoming more familiar with each other and the equipment.
Cooke said groundbreaking should take place this spring with both projects completed by the end of summer. The proposals are still being finalized, and Cooke doesn’t have a final price tag yet, but he’s hoping to get the work done for as close to $300,000 as possible.
“I had proposals and I estimated high,” he said. “I was figuring $600,000 for all that.’
Cooke is also hoping the new training facility will help attract volunteer firefighters who live outside the district who want to sign up for shifts at one of his stations. He currently has four shift volunteers and is working to get a grant to sign up seven more. The district pays a stipend for each shift, plus training and equipment for the volunteers.
“That tower is going to be a huge draw for us to get people who want to do shift work out here,” he said.
Cooke said he and his crews are looking forward to the new burn tower. “Everyone is so excited for the chance of taking their game to the next level,” he said.
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