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Fire District may hike tax

$2.4 million levy lid lift would pay for new fire station

— Okanogan County Fire District 6 may ask voters in November to approve a $2.4 million, 20-year levy lid lift to build a new fire station to replace one the district says is rife with safety issues.

The district leases the current station, 223 Engler Road, from the town. But Capt. John Owen said the improvements needed go beyond the building’s capabilities.

If approved, the lid lift would cost an additional 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or approximately $34 per year on a $200,000 home.

State officials toured the fire station last year and found six potentially dangerous areas where clearance between engines and crews is too narrow.

“Firefighters changing into gear for a call have 12 inches or less between them and a moving 50,000-pound fire engine,” the district said. “Poor clearance around the engines makes it impossible for drivers to see where nearby firefighters are as they pull out of the engine bays.”

“We’ve been lucky so far that no one has been seriously injured,” Owen said. “Just last week I took an engine door to the face because another firefighter in an engine could not see me before opening it.

“There is not even enough room to walk around the engine to do the required ‘360’ safety check before the engine rolls.”

Owen said the station limitations are partly the cause of volunteers dropping out and recruitment being tough, Owen said.

There are 10 volunteers this year in Winthrop, while the station needs at least 25.

Overall, the district has 37 volunteer firefighters to cover Winthrop, Twisp, Carlton and Mazama. Winthrop firefighters also respond to calls to the other three towns.

“It’s challenging to recruit new volunteers when we don’t have the space to accommodate them, or safe facilities for them to work and train in,” Owen said. “Even if we had the number of volunteers we should have to respond to calls in our community, it would make safety conditions at the Winthrop station even worse with the additional crowding.”

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