By Pat Jenkins
Did you hear the one about the room so small that you have to open the door if you want to turn around? It’s no joke for South Pierce Fire and Rescue personnel.
The fire district has stations that literally are so cramped that firefighters can barely squeeze between doorways and fire trucks. Two stations – one in the Eatonville area that’s 45 years old and another in Roy that’s 74 years old – have outgrown their usable space and are obsolete, according to district officials.
To modernize its facilities, the district is placing a $7.6 million bond before voters in the general election this fall. If it passes when the votes are counted Nov. 5, property taxes from within the district would pay for a new, centralized headquarters station, generators for emergency power at four stations, and remodeling of facilities districtwide.
For an owner of a $170,000 home, the annual tax bill would be $59.50.
This is first time since the district formed in 1953 that it has asked voters to pass a bond measure. Fire chief Bob Vellias said he hopes voters recognize that the district, which is debt-free, has been a good steward of public money and has gotten by as long as it can with sub-standard stations.
“We’ve been focused all these years on personnel and equipment, making sure we have what we need in those regards to ensure public safety. We decided buildings could be taken care of later. Later is now,” Vellias said.
Modernized facilities would save money and increase efficiency, officials said.
The district already owns land where a new headquarters station would be built. The facility would also serve as a community center and emergency warming shelter.
South Pierce Fire and Rescue’s 23 career firefighters, plus volunteers, provide fire and emergency medical services to a combined population of more than 22,000 in a region covering 138 square miles, including unincorporated areas outside Eatonville, Clear Lake, Ohop Lake, La Grande, Roy, Lacamas, Harts Lake and McKenna. The firefighting equipment includes seven fire engines to go along with seven stations. Three stations, including the headquarters, are in the Eatonville area. The other four are in the Roy area.
Last year, the district handled 2,341 9-1-1 calls. Of those, 75 percent were medical emergencies.
The district’s commissioners sent the bond to the ballot at the urging of a citizens committee whose members toured fire stations. Since then, Vellias has been encouraged by the response from district residents. At a meeting of a Clear Lake residents’ association and at the Lacamas Community Fair, he received positive reactions to information about the bond’s purpose.
“The more that I talk to people, the better I feel. They understand the need,” he said.
Ballots for the general election will be mailed by the Pierce County elections department to voters on Oct. 18. Voters will have until Nov. 5 – the official election day – to return their ballots by mail or at dropboxes provided by the county.