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A 17-minute wait for an ambulance is too long, Benton fire district says

Firefighters from Benton County Fire District 4 haul away charred items from the patio of a second-floor patio at the Quail Springs Apartments in 2016. The department is looking to voters to approve a $7.5 million bond to add a station in their growing district.
Firefighters from Benton County Fire District 4 haul away charred items from the patio of a second-floor patio at the Quail Springs Apartments in 2016. The department is looking to voters to approve a $7.5 million bond to add a station in their growing district. Tri-City Herald

A 17-minute wait for an ambulance or firetruck is dangerous, and Benton County Fire District 4 has a plan to cut down response times in the rapidly developing west side of the Tri-Cities.

Fire officials are turning to the public for input on their $7.5 million plan for a new three-bay fire station to serve the western part of their district, which stretches across 52 square miles.

The money would pay for the station, trucks and an ambulance for the station, as well as replacing current equipment.

“We’re looking to construct a basic facility that can be expanded as our community grows,” said Chief Bill Whealan.

To pay for the equipment and the station, the district is asking voters to approve a 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax increase to pay for a bond.

The measure would add $56 a year to the annual property tax bill of a $200,000 home.

When it was built, the land around District 4’s Bombing Range Road station in West Richland was nothing more than sagebrush and grass.

$7.5 million Amount of bond

52 square miles

9,000 more people expected in the next 20 years

17 minutes to the border of the district

Twenty years and 8,000 people later, the neighborhood is packed with houses, parks and schools. And more people keep moving in and pushing farther west.

Fire officials expect another 9,000 people will move into the district in the next 20 years.

“The housing developers are moving west of Belmont,” Capt. Paul Carlyle said. “There are still pockets in the city, but they’re having to move west to get more open land.”

As the population spreads west, officials are concerned about reaching homes and businesses quickly.

They want to respond within six minutes, but the drive from the Bombing Range Road station to homes along Red Mountain Road takes at least 10 minutes, and the far western border, near Sunset Road, takes 17 minutes.

BC4 boundaries

Whether it’s a fire or a heart attack, fast response times matter, Carlyle said. Fires can double in size every minute, and the sooner a heart attack patient can get to the hospital, the sooner they can start receiving treatment and the better the outcome.

While the agency’s western neighbor, Benton County Fire District 2, can automatically respond, it still takes them seven minutes to reach the district’s border.

And it presents a drain to the district that serves Benton City.

“We must be able to respond to emergency calls from our residents,” Carlyle said. “Relying on neighboring agencies, like Benton 2, as part of our response model is not fair for their taxpayers nor is it being a good neighbor to the region.”

With the growth in the population comes an increase in the number of EMS calls to the fire district, Carlyle said.

Overall, the district has responded to 565 more calls last year than it did seven years ago, and much of the increase is because of emergency medical calls.

The broad strokes of a plan are in place, the fire station would be home to an engine, an ambulance and a piece of specialized equipment, such as a wildland firetruck. It would have room for volunteer and career firefighters to stay while they’re on duty.

But other details, such as where exactly it would be, the timeline for construction and what the third piece of equipment would be remains undecided.

This is where the district hopes to get feedback from the community, Carlyle said. It plans to start meeting with community groups in the spring before placing the measure on the ballot. Much like schools, a fire district bond must pass by 60 percent to be approved.

Along with the new station, the district plans to replace two aging fire engines.

Anyone with questions about the bond can contact Whealan at 509-967-2496 or wwhealan@bcfd4.org.

Cameron Probert: 509-582-1402, @cameroncprobert

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