Still no decision on NWFR administrative offices move

Published on Wed, Feb 1, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) commissioners want to take a closer look at renovating fire station 63 before deciding to move the fire district’s main offices.

At the commissioners’ January 26 meeting, commissioner Dean Whitney said the board and district staff are still determining what needs to be done to the station  to make it more accommodating to fire crews. Currently, its heating system does not work properly, and there’s only one locker room for crews that include both male and female firefighters.

“[The locker room is] basically four people in a closet,” division chief Henry Hollander said.

Fire commissioners are considering moving the district’s main offices from station 63 near the intersection of Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads to station 12 on Britton Loop Road, just off the Mt. Baker Highway in Bellingham. The move would allow North Whatcom administration to better oversee operations of Fire District 4, which NWFR consolidated with last year.

The move has drawn the ire of some Blaine and Birch Bay residents, who are concerned about the administration’s ability to be receptive to the communities’ needs from offices in Bellingham. Both commissioners and officials have offered assurances that they will be willing to drive to Blaine or Birch Bay to address any concerns community members might have.

The district’s finance staff are currently set up at the Britton Loop station, as are the offices of interim fire chief Jeff Hofstad and division chief John Swobody, though both do some of their work at station 63. Division chief Hollander’s home office is at station 63 and will stay there after the move.

Speaking at the January 26 meeting, Custer resident Richard Mollette said he is in favor of the administrative offices moving to Bellingham. He said some people might think it’s not fair to people living in the Blaine and Birch Bay areas, but he has no doubt NWFR chiefs will be willing to meet with residents in these communities.

To Mollette, moving the offices to Bellingham makes the most sense fiscally and logistically. He said if there ever were a levy or similar funding measure put before the voters so the district could fund renovating the Birch Bay-Lynden Road station to fit the administrative offices, he would vote against it.

In general, commissioners did not appear overly concerned about where the administration offices are located but cared solely about being able to maintain firefighters at station 63. Fire commissioner Rich Bosman said the district needs to adapt to changes in the county and  press the importance of updating station 63 to be able to efficiently house firefighters.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with EMS in this county,” Bosman said.

Fire commissioner Larry McPhail said he has spoken with roughly 70 people from Blaine and Birch Bay since October and none of them were worried about the administrative offices moving. Commissioners also offered assurance that regular commission meetings will still be held at station 61 on Odell Road in Blaine.