Fire District looks ahead

The framing is up and the siding is going on soon at the Freeland fire station. Jenkins Construction is expected to finish the station by this fall. - Matt Johnson
The framing is up and the siding is going on soon at the Freeland fire station. Jenkins Construction is expected to finish the station by this fall.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Island County's Fire District 3 is goal oriented.

During a special meeting this week, FD3's commissioners and Chief Don Smith looked ahead for 20 years and set some goals for the district. Their crystal ball told them fire stations will be the most important item.

"We don't know if all of our goals will happen," said chairman Bob Elliot. "But we need to provide the chief a guide of where we want to be."

"South Whidbey is growing fast, and the district needs to be ready to respond to its residents. It's the 21st century. We need to get off the horse and buggy and be ready to respond."

The goals are the results of a workshop held last November for senior officers. This is the first time since 1998 the district has tried to look ahead two decades into the future and decide where its money will be going. Smith said he and the commissioners will do their planning in five-year increments.

The main focus for the next couple of years will be on fire stations. With the new Freeland station expected to be completed in the fall and a remodel of the Clinton fire station ready to go, the district will have the best facilities to house its trucks and personnel ever in its history. The Freeland station will be the first to open for use.

"Construction is ahead of schedule," Elliot said. "The roof and exterior rock wainscoting will go on by the end of next week."

The Clinton remodel is expected to be completed this year. Elliot characterized the work in that station as partially aesthetic, but primarily practical.

"We want to get rid of the old barracks look, so the style is more modern," he said. "It's a matter of moving some walls to add a meeting room and workout area."

The goal is to eventually make the Freeland and Clinton "sleeper stations," where volunteers are on duty overnight. Doing so will increase emergency response time. District officials have also noted in the past that a sleeper program, even with some remodeling and extra equipment, costs less than having full-time firefighters on the payroll.

"We are staying away from paid firefighters right now," Elliot said. "I don't think we are ready."

Another goal this year is to begin planning a central facility which will be built on the district's Thompson Road property. The station is expected to include in phase one of the construction the district's administrative offices, its medical response units, and possibly an Island County Sheriff's precinct. Elliot said the first phase should be finished by 2005.

The commissioners hope to have a training center at the 10-acre site. District volunteers currently do some of their live fire and rescue training at facilities in Oak Harbor or North Bend.

Another area of interest to the commissioners is to have the district become part of a national reporting system sometime in the next 20 years. Every incident the district responds to is given a number designation that could become part of a national data information base.

"This is common in most departments," Elliot said. "Camano Island uses it and it provides a good way to track the specific kinds of incidents we have to follow up on where necessary."

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