By Wendy Leigh
Reactions to the brand-spanking-new fire station in Bayview range from excitement to curiosity and even “Where did that big building come from?” But most South Whidbey residents know that the “overnight sensation” opening this weekend is actually the culmination of a carefully conceived and meticulously executed strategic plan spanning 12 years.
When the now-completed Bayview Station 36 finally broke ground less than a year ago, it launched a true Whidbey Island venture. Valdez Construction in Oak Harbor has served as the general contractor, while the majority of the construction came to life through local Whidbey contractors, sub-contractors and workers.
Following an open house and celebration this Saturday, Aug. 24, the South Whidbey Fire/EMS team begins moving into their new digs. The process could take up to a month to complete and incorporates multi-use functionality, including a training facility out back. By the time October rolls around, the new station will start hosting commissioner and all-district meetings as well as housing employees.
“It will be the new central hub of the organization where our career crew and administrative staff will be housed during the day,” said Chief Rusty Palmer.
Palmer also reveals how Station 36 was planned with room for growth and that it brings back the sleeper program in which out-of-district volunteers can stay overnight. That program began two years ago and taps into the wealth of volunteer potential from other experienced firefighters and EMTs in the Puget Sound area, including Seattle.
Before the new Bayview Station 36, a major glitch in the out-of-district program had been the lack of a place for volunteers to lay their heads at night when on duty or after a long day battling blazes. That problem disappears now when the new station flings open its doors.
Sleeping quarters at the original Freeland station will return, helping to alleviate a disturbing national trend of dwindling volunteerism amongst firefighters. Last year, the South Whidbey department responded to an average of seven calls per day, setting a record that shows no sign of slowing down.
Contributing factors to the higher call volumes can be anything from an aging population to increasing numbers of residents and visitors. The district covers 66 square miles of South Whidbey Island as well as 57 miles of shoreline.
Builders of the station adhered to LEED principles and facilitated future installation of solar panels for cost savings and eco-friendliness. Other design elements by Carletti Architects of Mount Vernon focused on harmoniously incorporating the station into the existing surroundings on Bayview Road, between Good Cheer and Goosefoot.
Palmer and all the staff encourage the public to stop by during the official open house this weekend. The event will get lively with traditions such as the Push Back Ceremony, a classic tradition in which fire fighters physically push the fire engine into the bay of the new station.
The open house takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24, on Bayview Road.