Other good volunteer firefighters are being lost, though, because they want to go into other careers. They might be willing to stick with the department longer if they can still have a place to live while they start those careers and their families.
“For a long time our resident volunteers have all been single,” Miller said. “We said ‘Let’s provide an opportunity to stay with the department after you’re married or want to get out of that type of living situation.”
The original plan was to build the new Fire Station 2 at the same time the new downtown Public Safety Center and Fire Station 1 were being built. Miller said a decision was made later to delay the new Fire Station 2 project until the much large downtown project was completed. Staff input was, and is, a requirement for both projects, which translates into hours of research, analysis and meetings.
“I don’t think we were prepared to take on two major building projects at one time,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to stretch the staff too thin.”
Bengtson said finding and keeping enough volunteers to provide the staff needed for three fire stations will be required if the city wants to maintain its current ISO rating of 3.
The rating is used to set insurance rates for structures in the city. A Madison Avenue fire station that will be closed after the new one is built is being used to fulfill that requirement now, but that station has been left empty many nights because there aren’t enough volunteers to staff it.
One thing that makes the staffing task difficult is it’s more important to have fire stations staffed at night than during the day, Bengtson said. Fires are just as likely to start during the day as during the night. However, people are more likely to smell or see smoke and call 911 when they’re awake and it’s not dark outside. So potential fires are often stopped quickly.
“We try to target our resources to night hours when risks are higher,” Bengtson said.
Full studies are done about once every decade to set a city’s ISO rating. Ratings are set based on a variety of criteria, including staffing, equipment, the location of fire hydrants and water availability in general. Bengtson said the city has arranged to have its next full ISO study completed after the new station is built.