In October, Tacoma’s Tideflats will have a round-the-clock firefighting operation for the first time in years after the City Council approved staffing a 24-hour engine company out of the training center there.
Right now, there is no working fire station on the Tideflats.
The city is committed to renovating Fire Station 5 (which closed a decade ago amid funding cuts) by 2019, according to a staff memo, and has been planning to reactivate a firefighting presence there. But with no fire suppression in that part of Tacoma and dismal response times for fires and emergencies, members of the City Council moved on Tuesday to speed things up.
“It is one of our areas of fewest calls, however it is our highest risk area as far as the industries that are down on the port and the potential for major incidents,” Tacoma Fire Department Chief Jim Duggan told the council Tuesday.
The department recently won a grant to pay for staffing the station starting in July 2018, he added.
Amid recession-era budget cuts, the city slashed funding to its fire department. That meant cutting away firefighting operations in the Tideflats, and opting instead to maintain service in more residential parts of Tacoma, Duggan said.
But with the amount of flammable materials stored in and moving through the Tideflats by truck or rail, the lack of a firefighting presence is dangerous, council members said. Puget Sound Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas plant on the Tideflats that will store up to 8 million gallons of LNG was an implied factor in the need for jumpstarting firefighting services.
Lack of fire department resources on the Tideflats — resulting in lackluster response times — was one reason the department lost its national accreditation, Duggan has said in past presentations to the council.
Councilman Conor McCarthy suggested changing the council’s resolution on Tuesday to commit to staffing a 24-hour engine company on the Tideflats as of October, instead of as soon as possible. He also recommended funding it with money from the city’s recently increased reserve levels. A City Council request memo estimates the cost at $240,000 for the rest of 2017 and about $2 million for 2018.
“This isn’t a responsible level of fire services we’re providing today for people who work in the port, for people who live around the port, and for people who are detained in the port” at the Northwest Detention Center, McCarthy said. The federal facility houses roughly 1,500 immigrant detainees.
As part of an interlocal agreement with the city and the Port of Tacoma in order to build its LNG plant, Puget Sound Energy will help pay to refurbish a fire station on the Tideflats. Tax revenues from the LNG facility will help pay for the operation of that fire station, the city has said.