4,000 people in Benton County lacking fire protection, rating firm says. This could be a fix

About 4,000 Benton County residents have almost no protection if a fire started in their home.

That’s what the Washington Survey and Ratings Bureau says about the people living within five miles of the Badger Canyon Road fire station.

The organization that tells insurance companies how prepared an area is for a fire gives the area a nine out of 10, with 1 being the best rating and 10 the worst.

The rest of the fire district has a rating of 5, which is in line with many of its neighboring districts.

Insurance companies use the ratings to help determine what homeowners will pay for coverage.

The poor rating in that area is because the station is staffed only part time by volunteers, leaving it empty for hours at a time, said Scott LoParco, the chair of the district’s Approve Fire Proposition 2 campaign.

Benton County Fire District 1 wants to add living quarters and an apparatus bay with the help of a $3 million bond on the ballot in November.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this is the second time this year that the district has tried to get voters to sign off on the measure. The latest attempt, in August, had 54 percent of the voters approve it, falling short of the 60 percent the measure needed to pass.

LoParco and Fire Chief Lonnie Click are confident people will support the bond if they understand how it will help them.

“It allow us to do things that we can’t do through our normal budget,” LoParco said. “I don’t think a lot of people in the fire district understand the need. We never had a really strong political action group in the department or as a citizens group.”

LoParco, a firefighter, spoke with the Herald after he got off of work about the bond to avoid violating state campaign rules.

They are confident about their chances in November. They said 54 percent is not that far away from 60 percent, and they were hurt by a low turnout.

What you’ll pay, what you’ll get

The 20-year bond would cost property owners in the district 10 cents per $1,000 of the assessed value of their property. That means a person with a $200,000 home would pay $20 a year in property taxes for the district’s services.

The change would come on the heels of two other bonds, totaling 11 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, getting paid off, Click said, meaning taxpayers wouldn’t see a big change in their property tax bill.

The bulk of the bond would pay for expanding the fire station near the corner of Badger Road and Badger Canyon Road. The planned $2.3 million project would allow firefighters to be stationed there the entire time.

On top of lower home insurance rates in the immediate area of the station, it will let firefighters get to the Rancho Reata area faster, said LoParco.

The Badger Road area has seen stable growth, and the five miles around the station already make up just shy of a quarter of the 17,000 people in the district.

The number of calls in the 320-square-mile district is also growing. The district’s firefighters handled about 1,500 calls in the past year.

Along with the expanded station, the district also wants to use the money to replace a 27-year-old ladder truck that was old when the district purchased it about nine years ago, LoParco said. The truck is becoming costly to maintain, with parts hard to locate.

“For us, it was an upgrade at the time,” he said, but the district needs a new one to effectively serve the people living in the Tri-Cities.

Making up the difference

LoParco and the other members of the committee campaigning for the measure believe August’s failure has more to do with a lack of voters than a lack of interest.

The district has 12,000 voters, but only 2,344 turned out for the August primary, he said. The group leading the campaign in support of the measure plans to get out to neighborhoods and talk to people. Along the way, they want to check on smoke detectors and pass on information about fire safety.

On top of that, they plan to turn to social media to get the word out.

“We tried to do the in-person meetings, but they’re not very well attended,” Click said. “We catch more people with the news media and social media, and going door-to-door. Letting people know what’s going on is a critical component.”

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.