Boise Fire Department eyes new training center

The $6.85 million proposal is the most expensive item of the city’s bond measures

sberg@idahostatesman.comOctober 14, 2013 

  • BOISE BOND BASICS

    Two bond measures that would allow the city of Boise to borrow almost $33 million are on Boise ballots this election.

    One bond would authorize $17 million in debt for construction of a new fire training facility and upgrades to four fire stations.

    The other bond would set aside $10 million for open space purchases and $5.5 million in new and improved Central and West bench parks.

    Business owners and homeowners would roughly split the cost of repaying the bonds. If both measures pass, the owner of an average Boise home — valued at $184,000 — would pay an extra $12 per year in property taxes. A business with $1 million in taxable property value would pay an additional $132 per year, according to the city.

    The total cost of repaying both bonds over 20 years would be more than $50 million.

    Both measures require a two-thirds majority to pass.

  • VOTER'S GUIDE

    Our Voter’s Guide appeared in Sunday’s edition. It can be found also at IdahoStatesman.com/election.

    Today: Boise’s fire protection bond.

    Tuesday: Boise’s parks and open space bond.

    Wednesday: Meridian’s council elections.

    Thursday: Nampa’s council elections.

About 2 minutes, 35 seconds into the video, three Boise firefighters turn and run to safety an instant before a burning wall hits the ground behind them.

The video, from an Aug. 1 house fire, shows — in dramatic fashion — the importance of firefighter training, Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan said. The firefighters escaped harm because they responded to warnings the way they were trained, Doan said.

Since June, when Mayor David Bieter pitched a bond to pay for fire department upgrades, no major groups have formed to fight the measure. A few individuals, including City Hall watchdog David Frazier and Idaho Freedom Foundation director Wayne Hoffman, have resisted, questioning the wisdom of borrowing more than $30 million for new and improved parks, open space purchases and fire protection upgrades.

Retired Boise Fire Capt. Paul Fortin threw his voice in with theirs Wednesday at a City Council candidate forum. Fortin is trying to defeat City Council President Maryanne Jordan on the same day Boiseans decide the fate of Bieter’s bonds.

He said the Fire Department should focus on lower-hanging fruit to improve response times and service before asking taxpayers to give up more money for fire station upgrades and the new training facility.

TOWER ON THE RIVER

Fire department leaders say Boise’s existing training facility doesn’t allow their crews to train in enough scenarios to prepare them for the real thing. Perhaps most importantly, they can’t train with live fire — something that national firefighter standards require.

“I don’t want the first time they see live fire to be when they show up at your house,” said Fire Capt. Mike Walker, a training officer.

The Fire Department can’t use foam or other chemicals at its training tower on Shoreline Drive because drainage there runs straight to the Boise River. Walker worries the floor plans he can stage are too limited to adequately prepare his trainees for responding to incidents in unfamiliar buildings. There’s only one entrance, with a door that swings one way.

These limitations reduce what Walker calls “slides in their reels” — in other words, the number of situations firefighters have faced in training that prepare them to respond instantaneously in live scenarios.

“We want them to react here and not have to think through things,” he said.

Just like the firefighters who escaped the collapsing building Aug. 1.

Walker said a new training facility, as proposed in Bieter’s $17.2 million fire safety bond, would go a long way to address his concerns.

He said it would help them prepare for fires in high-rise buildings and buildings that have arterial hallways, such as the ones in schools and hotels. The new facility would also allow them to practice cutting holes in roofs to “ventilate” fires and handling fires in the cavities between ceilings and roofs.

Fortin’s not against building a new training facility. What he doesn’t like is its proposed location — near Boise’s sewer treatment plant in West Boise. He said the facility should be as near to the center of Boise’s population as possible to reduce the amount of time training crews spend away from their home stations.

It’s true that training puts gaps in Boise’s fire coverage, Walker said. But that happens to a greater degree now because Boise’s firefighters sometimes train in Meridian on drills they can’t do at Boise’s facility, Walker said. Training in Meridian also limits the kinds of exercises Boise can do, he said.

LOW-HANGING FRUIT

Fortin’s objections to Bieter’s bond proposals start with Fire Station No. 14, near the corner of Five Mile Road and Hollandale Drive in Southwest Boise. Station No. 14 houses a 3,000-gallon water truck that sits unmanned. The problem is that fire hydrants are sparse in the area around the station, so a truck that carries water to a fire would be useful.

Fortin also points to the station at 39th Street and Chinden Boulevard that’s been out of service since 2010.

Bringing that station back into service would shorten response times around Northwest Boise, Fortin said, and putting a crew on the water truck at Station No. 14 would improve service to its area. The fire department could do both without investing in infrastructure.

Those steps would also require Boise to demand more money to continue serving the Whitney and North Ada fire districts, which both stations serve. Fortin said contracts with those districts have stretched Boise’s fire resources too thin.

Instead of huge, gas-guzzling trucks designed to fight fires, Fortin said, the fire department should send smaller, more efficient vehicles when responding to medical emergencies, which account for the majority of calls.

Doan said the department is already evaluating whether a shift to smaller vehicles would work. It’s a question of how well the new vehicles would work and how much they would cost compared to the savings they would generate, he said.

Sven Berg: 377-6275

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