Kennewick considers new firehouse

Tri-City HeraldApril 29, 2013 

A desire to improve travel time to fires and medical emergencies has Kennewick Fire Chief Neil Hines eyeing property along 10th Avenue.

The Kennewick City Council at tonight's meeting will consider buying a one-story home and an acre at 5500 W. 10th Ave.

A new fire station is needed to improve the time it takes to respond to the southwest part of town, Hines said.

The Kennewick City Council has set travel time goals for fire trucks and ambulances. But with the locations of Kennewick's current four stations, Hines said they can't meet the goals of four minutes for emergency medical calls and five minutes for fires in southwest Kennewick.

At the moment, travel time is closer to eight minutes, because units must come from the fire stations near the Benton County Justice Center, from Morain Street near Clearwater Avenue or from 27th Avenue and Ely Street. Kennewick also has a fire station downtown.

A fifth fire station also will help provide additional coverage for the rest of the city, Hines said. It could make travel time quicker if units at another station are out on calls, he explained.

"We try to build a system of coverage," he said.

New homes have been built in the southwest part of town, which includes the Hansen Park housing development. Southridge also has developed at a rapid place, and as that area continues to grow to the west, another fire station likely will be needed, Hines said.

Kennewick officials have focused on trying to find property on 10th Avenue between Kellogg and Edison streets. Hines said they were looking for an area with good road connections.

The city council will consider a tentative agreement with property owners Timothy and Ronda Cray. The sale price is expected to be $275,750, according to city documents.

The city may need to look into buying neighboring property to make it work better for a fire station, Hines said. The rectangular shape of the property may not be large enough to build a station and have room for vehicles to drive around and pull through.

As another option, Hines said, the city could station a two-person medic unit out of the home to provide quicker medical responses, and then wait until a better piece of property becomes available.

Having the medic team onsite could improve medical responses, which account for at least 75 percent of the department's calls, Hines said.

It's tough to put a fire station in an existing neighborhood, Hines said. The department already has heard some concerns from neighbors.

Noise tends to be the No. 1 concern, he said. However, he said, emergency vehicles roll out with lights flashing, but sirens normally aren't used until they get to the first intersection, which already happens on 10th.

If the city council agrees to buy the land, a fact sheet will be distributed to neighbors, Hines said. Additional information will be available on the city's website and community meetings will be scheduled.

In the meantime, Tri-City fire agencies also are working together to plan new stations. Hines said they want to look at multijurisdictional needs, so that fire stations are built in the right locations to cover the greatest area. Richland also is considering building a new station.

Local fire departments and fire districts have increased cooperation, including sharing response to fires and medical calls.

"We are really trying to send the closest unit," Hines said.

Kennewick, Richland and other fire agencies are meeting with an architect this week to look into creating a design template for fire stations. Hines said a shared standard design would help save taxpayer money.

"Design fees can be as much as 10 percent of the cost of the building," he said.

Officials hope to have a new Kennewick station started as soon as 2014, Hines said. However, planning still is ongoing.

A city-created blue ribbon committee is evaluating capital projects, including a new fire station.

Kennewick's last two stations were built in 1994. The station at Morain cost $1.5 million and the 27th Avenue facility cost $800,000, said Evelyn Lusignan, the city's customer service manager.

Both were paid for with voter-approved utility taxes on electric, natural gas and telephone bills, Lusignan said.

Hines said Kennewick is doing well at meeting response time goals in the highly populated areas of town, but he hopes to improve times even more with a new electronic station alerting system as early as next year.

Dispatch tones over the radio tell firefighters and medics what apparatus needs to respond. But depending on the type of alarm, Hines said that can take 45 seconds.

With an electronic system, staff will be notified on readerboards in a tenth of a second, he said. All of the stations will get the notice at the same time.

Kennewick, Pasco and Richland fire departments are looking into buying a system together. But Hines said some of that depends on the bicounty dispatch system currently under discussion.

While change wouldn't help with travel time, Hines said it would cut down on the overall response time.

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