Lacey fire station could reopen with grant

City must decide whether to accept $2.4 million to staff Hawks Prairie site

ckrotzer@theolympian.comJanuary 14, 2013 

Lacey Fire District 3 commissioners will decide today whether to accept a $2.4 million federal grant that would pay for firefighters needed to staff an empty Hawks Prairie station.

The grant covers the hiring of 12 firefighters to staff Station 35 on Willamette Drive.

Crews were removed from the eight-year-old station in April 2012 because of budget constraints, increasing the average response time to the area by two minutes as firefighters and medics now respond from the Steilacoom Road station.

It was the second time the Willamette Drive station, the district’s lowest call-level station, closed in three years.

The $2.4 million Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant would cover the costs to hire, train and pay the 12-person crew for two years. After that, the responsibility falls back to the city to keep the station staffed, unless the district qualifies for another SAFER grant.

“You are rolling the dice,” said John Christiansen, fire commissioner.

The district’s commissioners held a special meeting Thursday to hear the public’s point of view on the grant. About 40 people attended, including Lacey Mayor Virgil Clarkson and City Manager Scott Spence, Christiansen said.

“Nobody asked us not to accept the grant,” he said.

Clarkson attended the meeting as a council member and resident of Lacey, but he was not commenting on behalf of the city.

The city agreed to assist building Station 35 to help cut the response time for Lacey’s growing northeastern section, a community largely consisting of the 55-and-older crowd.

“That was a tremendous relief for those individuals who wanted to purchase out there,” Clarkson said. “It gave some semblance of security that there would be a station that could respond in a short amount of time.”

If the fire commission accepts the grant, Christiansen said, it might have to approach voters with a levy-lid lift to be able to continue funding the station once the grant expires in March 2015.

Voters already turned down two such levy-lid lifts.

While Clarkson said he personally is not fond of the idea of a levy-lid lift, he understands the fire district’s position.

“They are sort of caught between a rock and a hard place,” Clarkson said. “They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”

Having the fully staffed station also would cut down on the district’s reliance on mutual aid from Olympia, Tumwater and Yelm fire departments.

The district’s growing coverage area has left it consistently shorthanded, Christiansen said.

“We’ve never had enough firefighters to do the job that we have to do,” he said. “We do it with less resources, and that makes it dangerous for the community, but also dangerous for our firefighters when we go into a fire short-handed.”

If funding is not procured when the grant expires, the district will have to come up with the $600,000 needed to cover worker’s compensation for two years if firefighters are laid off.

“We don’t know where that would come from,” Christiansen said. “Besides letting go those 12 firefighters, we might have to let others go as well.”

The decision of whether to accept the grant must be made by Friday.

The fire commissioners plan to take a final vote at their second special meeting at 5:30 p.m. today at the district’s headquarters on Franz Street.

Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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