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Chief: Oak Harbor needs new fire station

A recent practice fire on Barrington Avenue is doused by Oak Harbor firefighters. - Submitted photo
A recent practice fire on Barrington Avenue is doused by Oak Harbor firefighters.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Since becoming chief of the Oak Harbor Fire Department, Ray Merrill has pushed to improve the city’s public fire protection classification.

Merrill said the fire department has made strides, but that the city should make one big investment to bring the rating down.

A new fire department building is needed in the growing southwest area of the city, he said.

The ratings, issued by the Washington Survey and Rating Bureau, are a comparative measure of fire defenses and building code enforcement in communities throughout the state. Ratings run from 1 to 10 and the lower the better. A lower rating can mean big savings for homeowners and especially businesses in reduced fire insurance premiums, according to the bureau.

A lower rating also means that the city is safer from fire risk.

Oak Harbor has maintained a rating of 4 since 2007; Merrill characterized it as “very good.”

In comparison, North Whidbey has a 6 rating, Central Whidbey a 7, Anacortes a 5, Burlington a 6 and Mount Vernon a 4.

“We’ve done a lot already to improve our ratings,” Merrill said, pointing to the department’s extensive training requirements and the city’s investments in the water system.

The department tried to improve its rating last year, but missed improving to a 3 by a relatively small number of points.

The rating bureau looks at things like the adequacy of the water system, the number and locations of hydrants, mutual aid, fire department training programs, building code enforcements, flow and pump tests, apparatus and alarm systems.

Merrill said the city loses points on staffing levels.

“We’re fortunate to have such a good relationship between the career staff and paid on-call,” he said, but added that he hopes to increase the career staff in the near future.

In addition, there’s the issue of response times in the southwest quadrant of the city, where homes are being built further and further away from the fire department. The city loses points in the rating, Merrill said, if homes or businesses are outside of a 1.5-mile radius from fire apparatus.

The solution, he said, is a second fire department in the area.

Oak Harbor Mayor Scott Dudley supports plans for a second building; he said the city already has a piece of property for the project near Fort Nugent Park.

The goal, Merrill said, is to build the new structure in 2016 or 2017.

He said the building would need to be between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet.

The current fire house is 24,000 square feet. Voters passed a bond to finance the building 25 years ago; since then, the department hasn’t asked for any other bond

“We feel like we’ve been pretty good stewards of the public’s money,” he said.

 

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