The S.E. Thurston Fire Authority was granted $515,000 to remodel and expand the Lake Lawrence fire station, which is currently unstaffed.
Since the authority does not call for volunteers from home anymore, the way to staff the station today is to have a place where EMT firefighters can stay the night and pull shifts in order to respond from the station, something that is impossible in the current building.
“This station was built back in the late 70s and was never built to have full-time residents, or people staying here overnight, essentially,” said Mark King, fire chief of the authority. “So back in those times a lot of your volunteers were from home and so it worked out OK, but obviously in the last 20 years things have changed tremendously.”
The fire authority is glad it received $515,000 from the state’s capital budget, but the majority of the funds for the $3.6 million project will have to come from a bond, which has to be approved by the voters.
King said they wanted to keep the bond as small as possible.
“So before we go to bond, we are going to try and find other ways to capture as much of that money as we can to keep that bond size as small as we can to get that station open in the near future,” King said.
Currently, the Lake Lawrence station gets about a call a day that it would normally respond to. Those calls are being handled by stations in Rainier or Yelm right now, causing the response time to be substantially longer than it would be if the station was open.
The slow response time isn’t the only problem, King said.
“Every time we send trucks out of the city of Yelm or Rainier to respond to a call here, they’re now uncovered,” he said.
And other than a lower ability for the fire authority to be effective in the area, the homeowners of the Lake Lawrence area are shouldering more than they would financially if there was a staffed fire station in their community.
“The insurance rates people pay on their homeowner’s insurance are much higher because it’s not staffed,” King said. “The one thing everybody would feel is a reduction in their insurance rates. And then, when you do have the unfortunate incidence to call 911, you’d have a faster response time by this station.”
And even if a bond was approved, the homeowners of the area are expected to see a net savings.
“I can tell you that the cost to fund the bond will be less than the cost you pay for the increased insurance rates for an unstaffed fire station,” King said.
The updated fire station will have six bedrooms for 24-hour EMT firefighters. It will have a day room, a kitchen area, a workout area and an area to store bunker gear and personal effects. It will also be able to house four pieces of apparatus, an engine, tender and an aid unit.
“So we’re going to use everything we can possibly reuse,” King said of the project. “We were told by the architect firm that the station is actually in great shape as far as the core structure part, so we aren’t tearing anything down. We are going to remodel and add on to the current facility.”
King said he and the rest of the fire authority are excited to have this project on their ladder.
“It’s a fun project to finally get something built out here and something moving,” he said. “These people have gone a long time without the appropriate coverage, so we are excited to be able to build that for them.”
But that’s not what he’s most excited about.
“I think it will allow us to expand our volunteer- and career-force overall to be able to keep the station open,” he said. “I think I’m most excited by the fact that we can truly affect the rates of everybody who pays fire insurance (in the area), which will be what everybody feels, not just when you call 911.”