In what one city official called an “Aha! moment,” Kirkland has decided to merge the siting of a long-planned new fire station on Finn Hill into the city’s current strategic fire and building planning process.
That’s what City Manager Kurt Triplett and Fire Chief Kervin Nalder told a crowd of about 40 Finn Hill residents Wednesday evening at a public workshop on the new station at .
“What has become clear to us is that the whole issue of do we need a new fire station and where is part of the larger process of our Fire and Building Strategic Plan,” Triplett said. “We think these two processes are matched up. Our proposal to you now is that we start these two processes together.”
For more than two years the Kirkland Fire Department has been trying to find a spot for a more centrally located station that would consolidate two small existing Finn Hill stations, 24 and 25, and improve response times area-wide. The process was begun by Fire District 41, which contracted with Kirkland for fire services before it was dissolved in June with the annexation of the area by the city.
But the process has been fraught with missteps. A Fire District 41 plan to put the new station on 1.8 acres inside King County’s Big Finn Hill Park was met with a loud and angry reaction at a public meeting last March; the group Denny Creek Neighborhood Alliance, which has since become the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance, flatly opposed the location for the loss of green space.
More recently, the city reversed its move to deactivate the smaller Finn Hill Station 24, which had been staffed part-time by volunteer emergency medical technicians, because it could no longer afford to pay their monthly stipend. After neighbors complained that the move would increase emergency response times and the volunteer EMTs agreed to serve without the stipend, the city last month agreed to restore the program and again staff the station overnights.
“I’ll be the first to admit we didn’t communicate that (the deactivation) adequately, and we heard about it,” Triplett said Wednesday night. “But it was a good outcome and we appreciate your telling us about that.”
As for merging the two processes, Triplett said the city started at square one with annexation and dissolution of Fire District 41, which did reserve some $5 million of bond revenue for the new station. When the Kirkland City Council began its 2011-12 budgeting process it decided it needed to update the city’s police and fire plans.
“As we began the strategic planning, a lot of questions came up,” Triplett said after the meeting. “Some of our stations are almost 50 years old. So it makes sense to wait (on the new Finn Hill station) until we answer some of those questions.”
Nalder explained the need for a new station by noting the fire department’s failure to meet its goals of reaching a 5-minute medical response time and 5.5-minute fire response time at least 90 percent of the time. He displayed a map showing areas of slower response times in the north Holmes Point Drive area and north Juanita. But he also noted an area of slower response in south Kirkland.
The workshop was far more cordial than the March public meeting. The audience asked a variety of questions on things such as whether the existing stations could be remodeled and enlarged; whether a new station would include and public meeting room and whether that would be worth the cost; whether improving chronically troublesome roads (such as north Holmes Point Drive) would improve response times; and whether cooperative arrangements with adjacent fire departments could improve response.
The general answer was that everything remains a possibility, but that developing a short list of potential sites and options was contingent on the completion of the Fire and Building Strategic Plan in May.
One neighbor applauded the city’s openness with the community, also thanking the volunteer EMTs for offering to serve without the stipend.
“This is an incredible response, a beautiful response, from our government,” said Ellen Haas, a Holmes Point area resident. “Also, I want to thank the volunteers.”
For details about the Finn Hill fire station planning process, see the city’s web pages by clicking here.