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Op-Ed: Firefighters support fire and rescue bond

by MITCHELL COPSTEAD/Special to The Press
| April 28, 2021 1:00 AM

It is no secret that North Idaho, and more specifically Kootenai County, has seen an incredible increase in population, homes, traffic, etc. This exponential growth includes the response area protected by the dedicated men and women of Kootenai County Fire and Rescue (KCFR). Kootenai County Fire and Rescue is an all hazards mitigation department that has a response area of 113 square miles. It serves the cities of Post Falls, Dalton Gardens, Huetter, the villages of Fernan and Stateline, as well many of the unincorporated areas of Kootenai County. Regardless of whether the growth is seen as a positive or negative to area residents, it does put a significant strain on our emergency system and first responders. It is our job to protect this community and part of that responsibility is to be honest and transparent when we need additional infrastructure and equipment.

According to census data, between 2000 and 2020 Kootenai County Fire and Rescue saw a 118% increase in the population it serves. No new fire stations have been added in the last 20 years to serve the increase in population. KCFR provides services in structure, wildland and marine fire suppression, emergency medical response and transport, hazardous materials, technical rescue, code enforcement, building inspections, school education, and community outreach services to its citizens. KCFR first responders have seen a 63% increase in emergency response calls over the last 10 years alone. In 2020, KCFR responded to more than 7,000 calls for emergency services.

Not only does the rapid growth in our area put a strain on our first responders, but the unexpected geographic location of the growth also increases the difficulty of emergency response. Traditionally, the majority of the constituents of KCFR lived along the I-90 corridor. Fire station locations were selected to best and most efficiently serve those people. However, a significant portion of recent growth has occurred both north and south of the traditional I-90 corridor.

According to a recent article in the Coeur d’Alene Press, the Tullamore Planned Unit Development, located between Poleline and Prairie avenues just west of Highway 41, includes 383 single-family homes and approximately 520 multifamily units alone. The Crown Point neighborhood, north of Prairie Avenue between Spokane Street and Chase Road, has an additional 650 housing units. With numerous other developments currently under construction, permitted, or awaiting approval, it is easy to see the significant change in population location.

When every second counts, how close is close enough? Emergency response times can be significantly delayed due to the increased growth outside the traditional I-90 corridor. In the emergency services world, extra minutes spent traveling can have very real and very negative impacts to those citizens calling 911. According to the American Heart Association, a citizen requiring lifesaving CPR due to a heart attack has a 10-15% decrease in chance of survival for each minute CPR is not provided. In the case of a fire, every minute counts as structure fires today burn hotter and faster due to current construction practices and the amount of synthetic materials found in homes.

The members of Kootenai County Fire and Rescue continually strive to protect life, property and our community with honor, integrity and pride. In order to provide this service efficiently and responsibly to the increased of population in areas of rapid growth, KCFR is proposing a bond to be voted on May 18.

The bond will provide funds for projects which include the following: construction and a new fire truck for an additional staffed fire station to combat the 118% increase in population, alignment of fire stations to reduce emergency response times and better meet the current and future needs of the community, and augmentation of the training facility to provide enhanced services to our growing community.

A bond is the most responsible funding option KCFR has available. We are firemen and women, not politicians, resulting in an inability to impose impact fees which would allow for growth to pay for growth. The bond proposal is a 10-year bond with an anticipated 1.23% interest rate. The anticipated cost to taxpayers is $24 per $100,000 property value per year. The current median home listing price in Post Falls is approximately $350,000. For the median homeowner, $7 per month will significantly increase emergency response capabilities provided by KCFR. This is not a permanent levy or tax increase. It has a 10-year term and will not be levied once the bonds are repaid. For more information, please visit www.kootenaifirebond.com.

Please join the Kootenai County Firefighters in voting YES for the KCFR bond on May 18!

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Mitchell Copstead is Local 2856 Secretary for the Kootenai County Firefighters.