On a misty Thursday morning, two area fire agencies met at the Northshore Fire Department training facility to hone their skills.
As they scrambled up ladders, lowered dummies and cleared rooms, Woodinville Fire and Rescue recruits, clad in brown uniforms, drilled under the watchful eyes of senior firefighters on one side of the building.
From around the parking lot, a Northshore fire engine pulled along the opposite side of the structure and department firefighters jumped out, running hoses to the second story balcony before throwing open a door and spraying down the interior. Even with two fire agencies training, and usually many more, the building nicknamed ‘The Funhouse,’ still had plenty of space for additional firefighters to train.
This was the idea behind the expansive Northshore Fire Department Station 51 Captain Mitch Sauer said. The entire fire station was built with growth in mind, possibly serving as the headquarters for the proposed Northlake Regional Fire Authority’s (RFA), which would include areas currently serviced by the Northshore and Bothell fire departments, Woodinville Fire and Rescue and Snohomish County Fire District 10.
The imposing five-and-a-half story structure is one of only three training centers in the East Metro Training Group, which encompasses eight fire agencies and around 35 fire stations spanning from Shoreline, across to Woodinville and all the way down to Bellevue and Mercer Island. The other large training center is in Bellevue with a smaller one in Shoreline.
“It’s definitely valuable,” Sauer said. “Obviously training is probably the most important thing we can do behind physical fitness and health.”
Fire officials believe the facility greatly benefits regional agencies. Its central location allows Bothell, Woodinville and Shoreline to train every Thursday for an hour-and-a-half session.
“Being a neighboring department, obviously they partner with nearby agencies, which is kudos to them,” said Bothell Fire Department Chief of Training Ron Wick. “It’s a tremendous facility.”
Shoreline Fire Department Training Program Coordinator Rachel Garlini said her department works closely with Northshore and Bothell for training and emergency response.
“One of the great things about Station 51 is they have live fire training capabilities,” she said. Shoreline’s training station doesn’t facilitate live flame training, so her department runs these drills once a year at Northshore’s station.
Northshore’s Station 51 was funded through $17 million in bonds approved by area voters in 2008. It cannot be refinanced until 2018. This has been a sticking point in RFA negotiations, though fire officials believe it will take until then to consolidate a fire authority.
Outside departments, which train at the facility, are charged for costs accrued while training, including water, fog machine costs and electricity used.
“We definitely try to recoup those costs from the departments that are using it,” Sauer said.
If these fees were not in place, Northshore residents would end up shouldering the financial cost of all the agencies training. If an RFA was formed, that cost would be diffused throughout the serviced region.
“Collectively, we have the resources that individually we don’t,” Wick said. “You have efficiencies by pooling your resources together.”
Area agencies already respond to large fires or emergencies together.
Wick said no single-area fire agency has the capability to take on a large structure fire on their own, so agency intercommunication and coordination are essential parts of their training.
If an RFA was formed these practices would become even more unified, allowing shorter response times.
A study session between the Bothell City Council and the Regional Fire Authority Planning Committee is scheduled for Oct. 13 to discuss the next steps in planning consolidation.