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Fire department tackling aged, crowded facilities
Nearing five decades of service, Bellevue's Fire Station No. 5 is an example of doing more with less, but Deputy Chief Michael Remington says replacing the old brick-and-mortar structure is also a top priority for the fire department.
"It's served us well. We're not in a crisis mode. Things aren't falling down," he said.
That same message applies to all fire stations slated for repairs or replacement under a facilities master plan recently filed into the city's capital improvement program, which takes a long-term look at population growth and fire and medic response times.
Fire Station No. 5 started as a volunteer station 47 years ago in Clyde Hill, serving it, west Bellevue and the Points communities. Like many stations in the city, it was constructed without the structural support now recommended amid concerns for seismic activity in the region.
"They say it's unlikely to survive a substantial seismic event," Remington said.
It also wasn't built for 24-hour shifts, which meant converting its meeting room to a bunk room. While Remington praises its fitness facility, he said he'd prefer if it wasn't in the garage. Firefighters clean their clothes mere feet away from where biohazard linens are washed, which the National Fire Prevention Association states should be separate, he said.
Fire Station No. 5 is situated next to a single-family property owned by the city of Clyde Hill, and Remington said he anticipates some discussion about coupling the two lots together, but other options will be explored.
A new station downtown
High-rise construction is heating up in downtown Bellevue. If it wasn't for these towering structures now populating the landscape, Remington said there likely wouldn't be a need for a new downtown fire station.
Response times haven't cost lives, but do fail to meet NFPA recommended standards. High-rises add a vertical response element, and if the emergency is a fire, that means firefighters are taking the stairs. There have been two high-rise fires over the past eight months in Bellevue. Remington said the standard is to have 27 firefighters on scene within 10 minutes.
"And we don't meet that anywhere in Bellevue," he said. "I'm not even going to say a fire station in downtown will get us to that, but it will get us closer."
A fire station was successfully built as part of a high-rise development in Los Angeles, but Remington said the challenges of such an approach make it a less feasible option in Bellevue.
Engineering aside, Remington said it would be better to construct a station outside of the downtown core and away from traffic congestion, which would likely cause problems for crews trying to enter or exit a high-rise station.
The fire department will explore options for regional assistance to expand its public safety training center, said Remington – a need that will continue to grow as the department looks to shore up staffing losses to retirement. Eighteen firefighters retired last year, and about 47 percent of BFD's staff will be eligible for retirement over the next five years.
"When you have 200 firefighters, that's a lot of folks," Remington said.
The training tower is outdated and there is no room to expand training courses, such as for urban search and rescue. No other location has been determined to be the right fit for a new training center, so the fire department believes expansion at the current site is the best option.
The Bellevue City Council is working toward finalizing a 2015-21 capital budget, and the total program costs for the facilities master plan are estimated at $129.6 million. Whether any of the top priorities laid out by the fire department receive attention this year is yet to be determined.