After nearly two years of construction, the new Northshore Fire Department station 51 — right across the street from old station 51 — finally opened its doors Wednesday though movers were still wheeling stacks of bins and boxes on hand trucks to and fro and even firefighters were hauling items from across the street.
About halfway through opening day, Northshore Fire Chief Tom Weathers, unpacking boxes himself with only a laptop set up in his otherwise pristine office, was asked how the transition was going.
"We’re running calls so that’s good but administratively it’s a bit of a challenge trying to get the computers turned off at one station and turned on here, get the dispatch set up and everything installed as planned," he said. "But we’re doing it and it’s great to finally be in the new facility."
The 30,000-square-foot facility, located at NE 181st St. and 73rd Avenue NE in Kenmore, is more than twice the size of the old one and the price tag, including land acquisition, was over $18 million, financed by a capital bond approved by voters in 2008.
It was designed by TCA Architecture and Planning and built by Harmatta Construction, both Seattle firms.
Weathers, Northshore fire chief for five years and deputy chief for five before that, was clearly happy with the new digs.
"Oh, man, it’s been a long time coming and I haven’t had a chance to sit back and enjoy it yet but I’ll say it’s extremely well designed, thinking about what we’re trying to accomplish here."
He said it was designed with an administrative component, a training component, a fire prevention component and, of course, a response component all integrated into one facility that works hand-in-hand.
"I’d use the word ‘synergy,’" he said. "There’s as much synergy here as you’ll find in any facility out there."
Moreover, there’s just a whole lot more elbow room, which was a welcome benefit to all.
"We had no individual space at the old place and had people literally working in closets," Weathers said. "When people would come in for what we call walk-in EMS we had to leave them right in the lobby to help, and that was difficult for all our office people and the other people coming in. Now we have a separate EMS exam room and it flows right to where they can be treated with the privacy they need and deserve, without anyone being crowded. And if they need to be transported we’re now set up where we can do that easily."
Among the features in new station 51 include a large public meeting space; public art by acclaimed Seattle artist Gloria Bornstein; an administrative area; an Emergency Operations Center that can serve both local and regional needs during disasters or significant events; a fire prevention area; a public education area that facilitates life safety education deliveries and materials; individual living quarters for the on-duty overnight firefighters, replete with toilet, shower and sink ("The barracks days are over," he said); an exercise facility; three apparatus bays to house the fire engines and aid cars and a state-of-the-art training tower that includes a live fire burn prop.
"I’ve seen training towers all over the U.S. and this one’s fantastic, as good as it gets," Weathers said. "You can train for every event that we’ll see in our district, from a high rise to confined space. We have a burn prop that looks like a kitchen but replicates a residential fire.
"You have repelling opportunities, the ability to poke holes in roofs for vertical ventilation, search and rescue scenarios ... pretty much every aspect of an emergency response short of water rescue training."
Moreover, it will eliminate the costly and time-consuming trips to the state training academy in North Bend, Weathers said.
"Not having to go to North Bend, having more local units available here and of course we have other agencies, like Woodinville, that are now training here ... the savings are enormous. Plus, if we happened to have a major emergency here in Kenmore we always rely upon our neighbors and if our neighbors are already here it’s a whole lot better for everyone."