WENATCHEE — After 91 years, the downtown fire station’s shift is over.
Chelan County Fire District 1 last week began moving its headquarters from 136 S. Chelan Ave. to the 600 block of North Wenatchee Avenue.
The move marks the end of an era and beginning of a series of changes and additions for the fire district.
The district began shifting the locations of its six stations after it annexed the city of Wenatchee into its boundaries in 2015. By spreading out the stations, firefighters can better cover the area.
“Our response times will be better,” said Chief Brian Brett. Adding a caveat, “If our crews are in the station when the call occurs, yes, we’re strategically placed to have a better response time, however all day long our crews are out doing their work.”
The fire district responds to 3,200 calls a year, 70% of which are medical calls, like car accidents and heart attacks. The other 30% are fire calls.
All told, the North Wenatchee Avenue station cost $6.8 million and will be paid for over the next 19.5 years, Brett said.
A station on Squilchuck Road is set to open Tuesday with a dedication ceremony scheduled next Saturday.
The district, which covers 70 square miles — from Sunnyslope to the Colockum — recently annexed the Stemilt Hill area into its boundaries. Brett said he’s working with an orchardist to buy land for another fire station by 2022.
The chief also hopes to add a fire station in the Colockum, south of Malaga, though the timeline there is less definitive.
The Colockum historically has been a hotspot for brush fires, and because of that, the district keeps a fire engine at the home of a volunteer firefighter in the area. That volunteer was the first on scene this summer after two people allegedly set fire to a hillside, igniting a fire that burned almost 3,000 acres.
As with most brush fires, helicopters were dispatched to the Colockum fire. That’s standard procedure now, Brett said, and to establish more aggressive attacks on fires, the district is adding a second helicopter.
The current helicopter uses a bucket to douse fires and the new helicopter will use a belly tank, which sucks water into an onboard tank. These are safer to operate over cities, Brett said.
In its fleet, the fire district has 10 command and utility trucks, 12 fire engines, 11 brush trucks (large and small), two ladder trucks, two water tenders and six plow and utility vehicles.
With its stations and equipment set or almost set for years to come, the district’s missing piece is people. The fire district has 36 firefighters, but needs more — paid and volunteer, Brett said.
With 36 firefighters, the fire district can guarantee a minimum of three firefighters on a fire truck per incident. Any fewer and firefighters wouldn’t, for safety reasons, legally be able to enter burning buildings to rescue occupants, Brett said.
Ideally, Brett would like another 24 firefighters, bringing the total to 60. That would guarantee a minimum of three firefighters at the stations on North Wenatchee Avenue, Squilchuck Road, Fifth Avenue and Western Avenue and in Sunnyslope, as well as one battalion commander, three firefighters on a ladder truck and two on a rescue truck. With 60 firefighters, the district could have at least 15 on each shift, which would meet National Fire Protection Association standards.
Voters would need to approve a tax increase for the district to afford more career firefighters.
The Wenatchee Valley is primarily protected from fires by Chelan County Fire District 1 and East Wenatchee’s Douglas County Fire District 2. Brett said the two departments have remained about the same size in terms of staffing despite a growing population.
“Our concern is: look at the rate of growth in our fire district,” Brett said. “We have $5.4 billion of built value here with people in them. We have grown enormously throughout our fire district with our homes right into the fuels.”
District 2 is expanding its stations, with a new station under construction and expected to be completed next year near the Odabashian Bridge. It also plans to begin the process of replacing its Rock Island station once the new station is completed.