Fire stations need revamp

Firefighter suits in Twin Falls have to be air dried because they don't have the right kind of dryer at their stations.

TWIN FALLS — Training space, more vehicle storage and accommodations for potential women firefighters are just a few of the things the Twin Falls Fire Department needs as soon as possible, according to a citizens advisory committee to explore rebuilding and remodeling the city’s fire stations.

The Twin Falls City Council voted unanimously Monday to accept the recommendations of the citizen’s committee, which is urging the city to replace the department’s three main fire stations, remodel the existing headquarters, and — if possible — to build all three new stations at the same time.

“The committee was struck by the job and expectations of our fire department in the context of their working conditions,” committee member Debbie Dane told the Council. “It was our feeling that the need is great and that the key will be to educate our voters.”

Under the committee’s recommendations, the city would relocate its headquarters and Station Two, which were constructed in 1974 and 1961, respectively. It would rebuild its third station in its current location on Washington Street South. A study by Pivot North Architecture in Boise found that Station One on Second Avenue East and Station Three are both in “moderate” condition, while Station Two, on Falls Avenue, is in “poor” condition.

All three stations are “small” and “cramped,” with no space for physical training, a lack of up-to-date technology, a “lack of privacy,” outdated restrooms, and crowded truck bays that lack adequate ventilation, Dane told the Council Monday. There are no separate areas for handling dirty or hazardous materials — posing a health risk for firefighters — and the buildings are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While there are no women firefighters in Twin Falls, the department hopes to add women to its ranks soon. Accommodating them would be extremely difficult in the existing stations, Dane noted. Station One has no women’s locker room and just one women’s restroom with no shower, while Stations Two and Three have no restrooms or showers for women.

“I really had no idea it was to that level,” Councilwoman Suzanne Hawkins said after hearing Dane describe the conditions of the stations. She addressed the firefighters in the room, saying: “To all of you, I apologize that I didn’t pay better attention when I was in your fire stations and looking around.”

The committee has recommended that Station One, the department’s headquarters, be rebuilt downtown, though the exact site is yet to be determined. It’s recommended that the city build the new Station Two near the intersection of Cheney Drive and Washington Street. The existing headquarters would be remodeled as part of the Public Safety Center.

The Council also voted to accept the committee’s recommended bond of $35,403,657, which will likely be rounded up to $36 million, according to city manager Travis Rothweiler. All Council members agreed that a 20-year bond would be preferable to a 25-year bond, as it’s estimated that a 20-year term would save the city more than $5 million. The committee has recommended aiming to get the bond on the May 2019 ballot.

Under a 20-year bond, taxpayers would pay a projected $75.20 per year for the project, according to the committee. Under a 25-year bond, that cost would drop slightly to $67.12 per year. The per-taxpayer cost could go down, however, if the city’s population continues to grow, Rothweiler pointed out.

The bond does not include the cost of purchasing land for Station One, said Deputy City Manager Brian Pike noted. Pike said the city would likely use impact fees or cash reserves to cover that cost if necessary.

The committee found the city doesn’t have funds for a fifth fire station.

“There’s not the dollars in the budget at this point in time to staff the station,” Dane said.

It’s estimated that the department will need a fifth station roughly five or 10 years down the road.

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