Preparedness & Recovery

Vancouver Firefighters Settle Into State-of-The-Art Stations

Fire Stations 1 and 2 were rebuilt to the tune of $15 million. The process took a little more than a year.

by Katy Sword, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash. / February 2, 2018

(TNS) - In one day, 53 firefighters packed up two fire houses and left behind the stations they knew and loved. That day, Jan. 23, Vancouver’s two new fire stations were deemed complete — complete enough, anyway, to unlock the doors and put the state-of-the-art facilities into service.

“It’s definitely still a work in progress,” said Vancouver firefighter and paramedic Pete Adams. “We’re getting there, though.”

Fire Stations 1 and 2 were rebuilt to the tune of $15 million. The process took a little more than a year.

Fire Station 1 is now at 2607 Main St., and Fire Station 2 has been moved to 2106 Norris Road. Station 1 was previously at 900 W. Evergreen Blvd. and Station 2 was at 400 E. 37th St.

Vancouver, Wa., Fire Chief Joe Molina said the crews are excited to be in their new spaces but feel the stations are “too nice” for them.

“It’s kind of like moving from an apartment to a mansion,” Molina said.

The new stations not only feature separate bunk rooms and community rooms, but technological advances, as well. Perhaps one of the most outstanding new features, Molina said, is the new zone alarm system. The system only wakes those bunks of firefighters who need to respond to late-night fire calls. In the past, everyone heard the alarm regardless of who was next in line to respond.

Fire Station 1 has an additional feature: traffic control.

“When we were looking at this location, I was like, ‘How are we going to get out of here?'” Molina said.

The station is equipped with a button that stops the lights at East Fourth Plain Boulevard, Broadway and Main Street. The lights will stop traffic for one minute, allowing fire engines to leave the station quickly. That length of time will likely change, however.

“What we figure is, we’re going to set it for too long, probably,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll get some complaints. But we’ll tweak it to see what the sweet spot is.”

Features such as the traffic control and a zone alarm are just two examples of the extensive thought process put into the station’s design, Molina said.

“Everything you see there was an actual choice made,” he said. “It’s really about trying to make sure everything we were using for it was tied to the mission.”

Simple but functional flooring, for example, in lieu of higher-end furnishings.

“Something that can’t break, because firefighters can break anything,” Molina added.

Culture changes

The new stations also mark a change in culture.

While the stations were in the design phase, the fire department was in the midst of an investigation into gender bias. The investigation completed in December 2016 found there was indeed bias in the department.

“We started really talking to the women firefighters — we have six of them now on the line — about our current stations,” he said.

The previous stations were all designed with male employees in mind. It was only the most recent builds that considered the possibility that a female might work as a firefighter, Molina said.

The result of those conversations was eliminating urinals in the bathrooms. The shift is something Molina said many took issue with, “the firefighters struggled,” he added. Each single-stall bathroom is now gender neutral, much to the appreciation of the women working at the new stations.

“We’re changing our culture,” Molina said.

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