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Wasco County OKs fire plan

The Dalles could have a second manned fire station by next summer, if all goes according to plan.

Mid-Columbia Fire & Rescue got approval from Wasco County last week to proceed with plans to remodel Station 2 in Columbia View Heights to add living quarters so paid and volunteer fire personnel can do 24-hour shifts there.

The fire district has been studying the possibility of manning that second station for several years now. That would improve its coverage of and response time in the district, which would hopefully improve a districtwide insurance rating that was downgraded in 2008, causing homeowner insurance rates to rise.

It got the OK from The Dalles City Council earlier — both the city and county control dispensing the funds for the project — and the matter now goes to the fire board next Monday for its decision.

If the fire board gives its approval, MCFR Chief Bob Palmer envisions work starting at the first of the year and finishing by May or June.

The low bid is $536,000 from 2KG Contractors.

Some $484,000 in Google enterprise zone fees were allocated to the remodel last year. The enterprise zone fees comes from funds paid to the city and county as part of a tax abatement agreement on construction of Google’s new data storage center. The city and county have, in turn, allocated some of the money to other local governments.

Some $40,000 of the $484,000 was already used in architectural fees, leaving a $91,500 shortfall once the bids came in. The fire district got an $18,664 grant and the city agreed to chip in $68,000 temporarily. The fire district will cover the remaining $4,872 shortfall.

The city and county earlier agreed to provide $34,000 per year from enterprise zone fees to the fire district for a student volunteer program starting in either 2015 or 2016.

Instead, it will give the fire district $68,000 up front from city general fund contingency money, and then keep the first two years of $34,000 enterprise zone payments to repay the general fund.

The remodel will include converting the northernmost area, which comprises two bays, into four dorm rooms, and attendant living space.

To compensate for loss of those two bays, a new bay would be added to the south of the building, adding 1,000 square feet and pushing the south wall another 20 feet further south.

The conversion of Station 2 into a manned station has been on the fire district’s radar for some time. The district’s insurance rating was downgraded in 2008, in part because it had only one manned station. The decreased rating has translated into higher insurance costs for homeowners and businesses.

Palmer said the student volunteer program pays college tuition for students, who, in return, must either live at the fire station or pull shifts at the station.

The station will have both paid and volunteer firefighters stationed there. “If we’re able to establish an adequate student volunteer program that gives us the ability to get more fire personnel on scene for attack purposes,” Palmer said.

The student volunteer program, once it is paid for with enterprise funds, should be enough to have three to six student volunteers available to fight fires.

Students will be required to attend a college program related to the fire service or emergency medical service.

“The concept for us is we’ll go ahead and invest in you for your college but you have to give up something in return and that is pulling shifts and supplementing our career staff,” Palmer said.

He stressed the volunteers are supplementing, and not replacing, career staff.

Paid staff will take turns rotating out at Station 2.

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