White Salmon fire

Klickitat County Fire District #3 Captain Jon Riggleman guides Fire Chief Wesley Long and one of the fire engines into the truck bay of Station 31 in Husum on Saturday.

Klickitat County Fire District #3, which covers 50 miles in Southwestern Klickitat County, including towns such as Husum, BZ Corner, Snowden and the White Salmon urban growth area, is nearly set to go to bid for improvements to the district’s facilities.

Last week, crews contracted by the district worked to clear out asbestos in the Husum station, which was discovered during preliminary studies of the structure, fulfilling one of the final tasks to perform before major work starts.

The facilities, including Station 31 in Husum and Station 32 in Snowden, need work done to sustain operations for at least the lifetime of the $3.1 million general obligation bond, which was approved by district voters in 2018, said KCFD#3 Fire Chief Wesley Long.

“A lot of repairs need to be made to make the building sustainable for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Long.

The improvements aim to satisfy goals established by a Citizen’s Advisory Committee and approved by the district, such as improving overall turnout, response and initiation times for emergency incidents; improving safety program, equipment and training for all KCFD#3 operations and activities; and improving sustainability capabilities, continuity of operations and emergency response.

The district is also planning improvements to further satisfy safety ratings from the Washington Surveying & Rating Bureau, which conducts analyses of fire districts such as KCFD#3, and rates them based on a multitude of factors.

The figure derived from the analyses then serve as a benchmark for insurance premiums the district pays out monthly.

Long said currently KCFD#3 is rated a 7.9; the highest rating overall for the lowest premium is a score of 1. The district scores lower in areas near Snowden and higher in areas closer to White Salmon, said Long.

The district has a laundry list of repairs and improvements to be made in order to satisfy those goals.

The district plans to extend the Husum station out to satisfy standards for room clearance in the truck bays and allow for the addition of workspace rooms, including a decompressor, a decontamination shower, and the reorganization of equipment.

The truck bay floor will also receive extensive repairs due to cracking, and the district will install drainage on the floor.

The Husum station will have backup power installed for emergency situations, and will receive improvements to its septic system.

Both stations will also have oil catch basins installed, and there are more improvements scheduled to improve energy efficiency and volunteer workflow.

“This community will grow, it’s going to continue to grow, and we’re trying to position ourselves to be ready for call volume increases and expectations of the citizens,” said Long. “We’re not ready for a career firefighting staff, but this community… is ready to have one or two people between all of us to augment our volunteers.”

Much of the improvements are needed, Long said, to save the taxpayer money in the long-term and to sustain operations. Before plans were set in place, the district hired contractors to produce a forensic study of the building. Plans were drawn up to “put in new systems where we need it and utilize current systems where we have it,” said Long.

“It costs a lot to take an old building and make it sustainable for the next 20 to 50 years, but we’re doing it as economical as possible, upfront, so we don’t have surprises later when we do construction,” said Long. “I believe that responsible use of tax money is something people of this community expect.”

To demonstrate this, only certain items are going out to bid while others will be completed by sole proprietors who do not have employees, such as a remodel of the kitchen as well as the office space in the Husum station.

“Our intention is to save the taxpayer money,” said Long.

The proposed improvements also point towards a long-term goal of the fire district to have the ability to establish a residency program in the Husum station in order to improve turnout time, though that is still a ways out. “We’re not there yet. We don’t have the funding to do that, but the community and the fire departments would benefit greatly,” Long said, pointing as an example to a sprinkler system the facility needs, which would be no small expense to the district.

First things are first, Long said, and that is improving the structures themselves and the district’s equipment. That also includes putting plans in place to replace the fleet vehicle stored in the Snowden station. A 1985 vintage engine, which uses front-wheel drive, is not an ideal machine for the work that may need to be done in the Snowden area, Long said, although nothing is set in stone in that regard. Out of the bond, the district has already upgraded certain equipment. They bought two new equipment pick-up trucks, snowblowers for the Husum and Snowden stations, as well as a compressor, an ice machine and an extractor, which is a special type of washing machine for firefighter gear.

Standing in the way of progress for now is a bit of paperwork; according to Long, the building in Husum was never granted a Conditional Use Permit by Klickitat County officials, even as the schoolhouse-turned-station went through major renovations to form the fire district facilities housed in Husum in the 1990s. The process is ongoing, said Long, and once that is done, the work can go out to bid.

Corrections: WSRB rates a multitude of businesses/services in a given community. Station 32 in Snowden is to be extended – not Husum. The fire district has already completed all necessary drawings and permits from the county that included completion of the Conditional Use Permit for the Snowden station.  Permits include;  Conditional Use Permits, Septic upgrades, completed surveys, completed easements, complete biologist study for Station 32 etc. Columbia Gorge News regrets the error.