Fire departments are the latest institution reacting to the continuing population growth across the Tri-Cities.
Pasco and West Richland cemented plans to expand their reach by opening new fire stations during the next few years. Kennewick included plans for expansion in its budget.
The Tri-City metro population topped 290,000 in 2017 and is expected to cross 300,000 this year. It added 6,500 people between 2016 and 2017, roughly the size of a small town.
The growth has pushed developers to find places for new homes as fast as they can. In Pasco, the city is filling in holes throughout the Riverview area, and pushing both north and west along Sandifur Parkway.
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In Kennewick, the homes are going up in the south and west areas of the city as the Port of Kennewick plans for development in Vista Field. West Richland continues to push west as homes go up along Keene Road.
The challenge for each of the fire departments is similar: get to the scene of emergencies as quickly as possible without having to fight traffic, while the area they cover grows at a rapid pace.
Pasco’s plan to move a pair of fire stations is aimed at helping deal with the population explosion that made it the second largest of the three cities..
While ambulance and fire calls used to be pretty evenly distributed across the city, the growth in the western areas is putting more emergencies in the area.
The council wants the department to be on the scene of an emergency in six minutes or less, said Fire Chief Bob Gear. Fire officials used to struggle to meet that goal in the Riverview area, but a station on Road 48 helped to slash those time.
But, Gear said, the former Franklin County Fire District 3 station was never meant to be a permanent solution to the city’s needs. Walking into the building, it’s easy to see it wasn’t designed for modern fire trucks — the gap between the wall and the truck is barely wide enough to pass through without turning sideways.
The city also needed to buy a home next to the station for firefighters to sleep in, and while it’s been converted into offices and bedrooms, it is not the best design for a fire department.
The new station will sit on Road 52 near Court Street and will become the new administrative center of the department. While the department rents space on Port of Pasco property on Ainsworth Street for the chief, each of the battalion chiefs work out of the Oregon Avenue station.
The new center will put everyone in a single location near the center of the city, allowing the more communication between the administrators. It also will put battalion chiefs closer to many of the calls.
The problems facing the Road 68 station are familiar to anyone trying to navigate the busy intersections on Burden Boulevard and on Sandifur Parkway.
Many of the emergencies they respond to happen north of those intersections, forcing firefighters to navigate both of those intersections before they can get to the people needing help, Gear said.
The station was built in the mid-1990s before the city pushed to the northwest. But with the growth, the department needs a station closer to meet the city’s six-minute goal.
It plans to build the new station on a city-owned lot at Sandifur and Road 76.
The Pasco City Council signed off on the budget, with plans to sell about $18.5 million in bonds to pay for both the projects. They expect to finish design and construction before the beginning of 2020.
A $23 million package of improvements is included in the budget, but has not gotten approved by the city council.
The estimated costs rose by nearly $10 million since the city penciled in the costs in the 2017-19 budget.
The first scheduled in the plan for replacement in 2020 is the 40-year-old station next to the Benton County Justice Center. The station is a constant drain on city resources with problems with the roof, doors and plumbing. Replacing it is part of a Port of Kennewick’s plans for Vista Field.
The 103-acre former airfield near the Three Rivers Convention Center is being developed into a new town center. The plan includes moving Station 3 across from the convention center and incorporating it into the development.
This is a move that would help make the surrounding property easier to sell to people building homes or businesses.
“That’s a huge selling point for people,” said Tim Arntzen, Port of Kennewick CEO.
Station 1 near City Hall — the next in the city’s plans — is facing several similar problems because of its age. The plan calls for a major remodel in 2021.
The final station on the list is a brand new station to serve the growing area in the south side of the city. The estimated $9 million station is planned for the Southridge area near Bob Olson Parkway.
The city secured a $2.3 million grant from Federal Emergency Management Agency to hire 12 new firefighters to staff the station when it opens in 2022.
The city already is in the interview process to hire those firefighters, since the grant requires them to be hired by March.
Benton County Fire District 4 is moving forward after voters agreed to a $7.5 million bond to build a new three-bay fire station.
The population is expected to grow by 9,000 people during the next 20 years, with most of them moving into the western portion of the district.
Arntzen said the port commissioners agreed to sell about two acres of land to the fire district for $10,000 at a recent meeting. The land sits near Keene Road and Highway 224 on the western edge of the city, an ideal spot to accommodate future growth.
Fire Chief Bill Whealan said the district will need city, state and federal approval to use it for a fire station.
The district is going through the process to secure the bond and expects to have more news to announce in the beginning of the new year.