TWIN FALLS — An overcrowded truck bay. Leaky ceilings. Potential safety hazards.
These are just a few of the things on the Twin Falls Fire Department’s long list of problems with the fire stations it hopes to replace in the coming years. Twin Falls voters will decide on May 21 whether to approve a bond that would rebuild — and in some cases, relocate — the department’s three primary stations.
The $36 million bond would go toward new, updated fire stations with modern amenities — Stations 1, 2 and 3 were all built in the 1960s and 1970s — and kick off the creation of a new fire training facility. Currently, the department has no such training facility and must rely on practice drills in parking lots and on donated houses.
Expanded stations would give the department room to increase its staff, a development Chief Les Kenworthy says will be necessary as Twin Falls grows. The updated stations would provide a safer, more comfortable work experience for firefighters, potentially improving efficiency and performance, members of the department say.
“You’ve heard the saying ‘happy wife, happy life,’” said Capt. Dave Owens, who is based at Station 2 on Falls Avenue. “I think it’s pretty much the same for firefighters and the community.”
And on a practical level, updates such as larger truck bays would improve the department’s response time, potentially saving lives and driving down insurance rates, Kenworthy said.
“Most people don’t realize some of the struggles we have with the stations we have,” Kenworthy said. “By adding new fire stations, it will give us the capacity to serve Twin Falls better.”
If the bond passes, the department would move its headquarters on Second Avenue East to an undetermined downtown location. Station 2 would move north of the College of Southern Idaho campus to a site already purchased by the city, and Station 3 would be rebuilt in its current location on Washington Street South.
Here’s what the department would change about Station 2 if given the opportunity.
Kitchen: Most modern fire stations, Kenworthy said, have a commercial kitchen with a mechanism built in to automatically turn off the oven and other appliances in the event of a call. The Twin Falls stations have no such mechanism and use home appliances, presenting a potential danger; it’s not unheard of for a station to burn down when firefighters rush out the door and forget to turn off the stove.
There is also asbestos under the kitchen floor tiles, Kenworthy noted. The asbestos doesn’t present a health hazard if the tiles are left in place. But if they are at any point torn or broken up, the consequences could be serious.
Fire safety: In the event of a fire at Station 2, there are smoke detectors but no other protection measures, such as sprinklers or alarm systems. Station 1 is the only station with fire protection measures in place.
Showers: There is one shower in Station 2, located inside the station itself. With three firefighters at a time on duty, one shower simply isn’t enough, Kenworthy said. The department hopes to eventually expand the number of firefighters on shift at Station 2 to five at a time.
But the location of the shower also presents potential safety hazards. When returning from a call, the firefighters must walk through clean areas of the station to get to the shower.
“In the ‘60s, when it was built, they didn’t think about all the toxins and things fires have in them,” Kenworthy said. “They didn’t know at the time.”
The department also performs EMS services, meaning first responders based at the station often come into contact with sick or wounded people when on call.
“They’re not completely decontaminated until they get to the shower,” Kenworthy said. “If we had somebody come in here and do a germ test, I’m sure it would be off the charts.”
If a new station is built, the department would put showers in the bay area, so firefighters can clean themselves off before coming inside.
The new stations would also include restrooms that could accommodate more people at a time.
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“As small as that might be, it’s huge for us,” Owens said.
Sleeping quarters: The firefighters’ sleeping quarters in Station 2 are relatively large compared to the sleeping quarters in Station 1, where the firefighters jokingly refer to their windowless rooms as “cells,” Kenworthy said. But there is brown liquid dripping down the walls of the Station 2 sleeping quarters above the firefighters’ beds, due to a leak in the roof.
Work area: Most modern fire stations include a designated work area with computers for online training and other computer-based tasks. Station 2 has one computer for the firefighters on duty in the lounge area. The captain also has a computer in his office.
Ideally, there would be several computers in the same place so that firefighters could talk and ask each other questions while working together on computer-based duties, Kenworthy said.
“It’s part of the job today, with training, to utilize that,” Kenworthy said.
Public lobby: While Station 1 has a lobby area for members of the public who come into the station, Stations 2 and 3 do not. The department would like people to be able to come into all the stations to get their blood drawn or get a medical issue addressed by EMS, Kenworthy said.
“We have nowhere to do that,” Kenworthy said. “This wasn’t set up as a fire station for the public. It’s strictly a working station.”
Washing machines: While firefighters at Station 2 wash their uniforms in a residential washer and dryer that were recently added to the station, there is no place for them to wash their jackets and other heavy fire gear. Such gear must be cleaned by an appliance called an extractor. The only extractor in Twin Falls lives at Station 1, meaning that the firefighters based at Stations 2 and 3 must bring their gear to Station 1 every time it needs cleaning.
Each updated station would include its own extractor.
“For me, I think the ability to clean everything and keep us cancer-free is at the top of my priorities,” Owens said.
Separate room for gear: Firefighters’ gear at Station 2 is kept in the same bay as the trucks — meaning that exhaust lands on the gear when the trucks are turned on. Most fire stations have a separate room for gear, Kenworthy said, and the updated stations would too.
Larger bay: The apparatus bay of Station 2 needs some significant updates, Kenworthy and Owens say.
The bay, which currently holds one structural fire engine and one 3,000-gallon water tender, lacks modern fans and equipment to deal with exhaust from the trucks. Owens, whose bedroom is next to the truck bay, says carbon monoxide shoots into his room when the trucks are turned on.
The bay is also too small for the department to operate at maximum efficiency. It’s typically recommended that there is at least six feet of room between trucks when the doors of both trucks are open, Kenworthy said. In the Station 2 bay, there is as little as six inches between opened truck doors in some places.
There are four total apparatus based at Station 2 but room in the bay for only the structure fire engine and water tender. A rescue truck and brush fire truck are kept outside, which can present problems in colder months.
Weather-related obstacles, such as frost on the windows of the trucks kept outside, can slow down the department’s response time. The water is drained from the brush truck for the winter months, starting in October, to keep it from freezing. When it’s needed for a call during those months, the firefighters must fill it up again before heading out, a process that adds about five extra minutes.
The doors of the trucks kept outside are also locked each night, meaning they must be unlocked before they’re used for a call.
“Some of these calls, every minute truly counts,” Kenworthy said.