Adna community members on Tuesday night joined volunteer firefighters in the conference room of Station 61 on Jackson Highway to question Lewis County Fire District 6 commissioners on their plans to staff the currently empty fire station in Adna.
While District 6 has a total of four fire stations spread across its rural Chehalis coverage area, only one of those stations is fully staffed. The others, including Station 63 in Adna, are staffed on an intermittent basis as staffing schedules allow, and more often than not, District 6 responds to all calls out of Station 62, which is located right in the center of District 6’s coverage area.
As a result, it typically takes firefighters 12 to 14 minutes to respond to calls referred to the Adna, Logan Hill and Newaukum Hill stations.
“We have policies that say that we’re supposed to be somewhere in eight minutes and we cannot achieve those. That’s a liability issue right there,” said Dave Layden, an Adna resident as well as a volunteer firefighter and volunteer coordinator with District 6.
Layden and other Adna residents expressed concerns about District 6’s response times given the high-call volume in the Adna area. They said the station in Adna could get to those calls quicker if it was consistently staffed.
“It’s not that it’s not being done. It’s just it can’t be done all the time with the level that we have right now of volunteers,” Layden said. “We’re growing and we’re increasing, and with the amount of EMS and fire service that comes out, we need to have more firefighters, we need to have more career guys, they need to be there to support the volunteer guys that come on.”
As of the July 27 commissioners meeting, District 6 had a total of 18 volunteers on a rotating roster — only six of whom were trained and experienced enough to independently respond to calls alongside paid firefighters.
“I’m one of the six,” Layden said. “I could go and operate a pump, operate an engine, operate a tender.”
The volunteers are intended to support the district’s nine paid firefighters, but the required training creates a sizable time commitment for volunteers. Most who stick with the volunteer program long enough to be qualified to respond to calls are typically looking to start a career in firefighting.
They often leave to accept paid firefighting positions at another fire station. Most of District 6’s other volunteers work grueling hours with American Medical Response (AMR), Layden said, and have a very limited amount of time to dedicate to District 6.
At Chief Ken Cardinale’s recommendation, District 6 hired two new firefighters this year to help address the district’s staffing problem, despite only budgeting to hire one new firefighter that year.
“They were such good recruits and they were local boys that came up through the fire system that already knew, so we said ‘let’s hire both of them instead of just hiring the one,” said Commissioner Jeri Lux.
Cardinale’s strategic plan includes a recommendation to hire three new paid firefighters to staff the Adna station.
“The reason that Adna station was chosen for putting that staff at, if the budget can withstand that, is currently the call volume up there is higher than it is in Logan Hill. There are needs in both districts, Adna and Logan Hill, but I had to prioritize one district over the other and that’s because of the call volume and some of the severity of the calls,” said Cardinale. “But that requires money. And to do that, we’re going to have to go out to the voters and that will be a commissioner’s decision to be able to get the funds to hire that additional staff.”
Commission Chair James Martin assured the gathered community members that the district had a plan to staff the Adna station. Specifically, Cardinale had put together a recommended strategic plan for the district, which the commissioners intend to review and use to develop a seven-year plan for the district.
“We’re trying to do the best we can to give the best service for the money we have to work with,” Martin said.
The commission has its first preliminary budget meeting on Aug. 10, where the commissioners will begin going over Cardinale’s recommendations and developing a seven-year strategic plan.
That plan will include a timeline for developing a proposal for a levy increase, Martin said. The district is working to finalize language for an EMS levy that it plans to put before voters in the next general election, but the seven-year plan will also include a timeline for developing a levy proposal, Martin said.
Community members said a levy increase was something they would wholeheartedly support. “This community supports each other,” said one attendee. “We would support a levy.”