DALLAS — After two tries, the Southwest Polk Fire District has three new stations to provide emergency service within its 123 square miles of responsibility.
SW Polk and its board of directors celebrated the opening of the first of three new stations at Salt Creek Jan. 5 with a ceremonial ribbon cutting. Ceremonies to welcome the other two stations take place today (Wednesday, Jan. 12) at the Rickreall Station at 9105 Rickreall Road and next week Jan. 19 at the Bridgeport Station at 6040 S. Kings Valley Road. Both events are at 11:30 a.m.
SW Polk Board President Rod Watson said before cutting the ribbon, that the momentous occasion comes after years trying to save money for their residents and relying on neighboring districts.
“We’re here today to move on and open all the stations and ready for business,” Watson said.
A first attempt to build a new station at just the Salt Creek location failed in 2008. A second attempt succeeded in 2017 with a bond measure applying 69 cents tax per $1,000 valuation of district property owners. Fire Chief Fred Hertel explained, at that time, the board was trying to build two stations – one at Salt Creek and another to replace the old “Quonset hut on the main drag in Rickreall.”
“As time went on, before the bond money got spent, they decided to make these stations smaller and build a third station south of town so we could cover more of our district,” Hertel said.
“So, we have all three stations up and functioning at this point. But you see as you walk around visiting the stations over the next couple weeks, you’ll see not completely built out and fully functional. We continue to seek partnerships to fill in those voids where we need them,” Hertel told the visitors to the ribbon cutting ceremony.
For example, the Salt Creek station’s kitchen, community room and bathroom were all funded by a $230,000 Ford Family Foundation Grant. In addition, they were notified Jan. 4 of a Boise Cascade grant they qualified to receive for about $12,000 to pay for plywood to go on the inside covering the station’s interior membrane.
“We continue to seek those partnerships. You as the community if you can help, we’d love to see that happen more in the future. This is a great opportunity for the board to express what they have been expressing for a number of years, since I’ve been here, and that is we need to provide a service to our citizens. And these stations provide that,” Hertel said.
He added the three stations cover about 95% of the district and is looking to close that gap with a fourth station in the Oak Grove area.
“The board is trying to look for partnerships with the school districts and other governmental agencies to make that a success as well,” Hertel said.
The Salt Creek Station is considered the administrative center and headquarters. It is staffed by six crew members, two per shift, 24 hours per day. However, it’s still not complete. To cut costs and build the other two stations, a sleeping quarters and sprinkler station were left out.
“A sprinkler system was a larger expense. Because when you put sleeping quarters in any building, you have to have a sprinkler system. So, because we’re rural, we had to have tanks and pumps, and the system itself. So that’s roughly $300,000,” Hertel explained.
They were able to buy a used sleeping trailer through North Lincoln Fire and Rescue they were using for a seismic remodel that the Salt Creek staff is sleeping in now.
Hertel said it was a huge deal to get stations out in areas that didn’t have coverage before, probably saving residents tens of thousands of dollars in fire insurance premiums.
“There is a thing ISO, Insurance Services Office, that rates fire protection,” he said. “That number is what they use for fire insurance premium rates. In talking to one of the local residents to the Salt Creek Station, he said he saved more money than what the bond measure cost him. To them, it’s already been a win and they get service on top of that — no money out-of-pocket and get service that is more local, better and faster.”
The 5,000 square-foot facility is home to a heavy brush unit, a thumper unit and SW Polk Fire District’s first ever ambulance. Hertel said they received approval for the ambulance in November, allowing them to respond to ambulance calls whenever called.
“What we don’t have is an ambulance service area,” he added. “All the ASAs are already delineated and is under review at this point. So, we are used as a mutual aid resource. When other agencies run out of ambulances the idea is they would call us as a backup. Not uncommon in the fire service — it happens in Lincoln, Washington and Marion counties. This the first time happening in Polk County.”
Going forward, Hertel said the SW Polk Fire District is continuing to seek more partnerships to upgrade its remaining facilities. One area is applying for ARPA money (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) through Polk County.
And that’s not the only fundraising project. Bruce Sigloh, a member of the SW Polk Fire District board and longtime president of Salt Creek Neighborhood association, said the Salt Creek Station has another outstanding need.
“With the cutback in some of the funds we needed in construction, we weren’t able to have enough money to erect a flagpole and have it lighted,” he said. “So, we have a volunteer fund for contributing money to obtain a flagpole in front of station.”