Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Coeur d'Alene police chief: Could take years to recover from fire

Staff Writer | June 11, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — A two-alarm fire that destroyed a building filled with Coeur d’Alene police vehicles, gear and equipment could have a longtime impact on special operations.

“This will likely take us years to recover from,” said Police Chief Lee White on Monday.

Police lost about 10 vehicles in the Sunday morning blaze, including an incident command trailer, a SWAT BearCat armored unit, nearly 100 laptops, e-bikes and everything associated with its canine program.

The building was the home of code enforcement, animal control and the police department’s information technology division. It also housed the department’s special teams equipment.

White said one vehicle was new and hadn’t even been driven yet. It was reduced to a charred body of metal.

“You can't even tell it was once a police car,” he said.

The estimated value of the building and items lost was in the millions.

Investigators led by the Idaho State Fire Marshal’s Office spent Sunday and Monday at the site, which is in a secured area, part of a city shop campus behind police headquarters on Schreiber Way.

The cause remains under investigation. 

“After our work today, we have more questions than answers,” said Coeur d’Alene Fire Inspector Craig Etherton.

He said they will likely have another joint fire scene exam which will include mechanical and electrical engineers in a few weeks. 

“We do not suspect foul play in this fire,” White said.

Etherton said the fire started about 5 a.m. Sunday. When crews with Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County Fire and Rescue responded, they were greeted with a fully involved structure fire marked by explosions. It took 30 firefighters nearly four hours to extinguish the blaze..

There were no injuries reported, and the building was unoccupied at the time, Etherton said.

Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar said when he heard about the fire, he was shocked.

“In 27 years in law enforcement, I’ve never had something like this happen,” he said. “To lose this much of our resources, I think we’re still kind of wondering what’s in there.”

He said it could be two years or more before a new building is constructed and everything is replaced, “even if we’re able to get back what we had.”

Hagar said items they bought years ago are likely higher now and insurance may not cover the full cost.

For instance, the SWAT armored unit that provided protection for police during dangerous situations was about 15 years old and police picked it up for about $180,000. Today, it costs around $300,000 to $350,000.

“We worked a long time to get that armored vehicle,” Hagar said. 

He said area law enforcement agencies have reached out to offer their resources.

“We may never get back to the point that we were,” Hagar said. “But at the end of the day, we’re still focused on the safety of the community, so we’ll make do.”

White said the average citizen in Coeur d’Alene will not see any direct impact of the fire. The city still has all its patrol cars so police coverage will continue as usual.

“Special units are where we took the great hit,” he said.

White estimated between nine and 12 vehicles were destroyed and five that were parked about 25 yards away were damaged by the heat. 

Protective suits for canine training, new e-bikes for the downtown summer patrol, and code enforcement vehicles were destroyed, too. 

About 90 laptops in the IT division were lost, which White said is another big blow.

“They play a huge role in the success of our operations,” White said.

Explosions heard during the fire were likely from gas tanks, lithium batteries and some flash bangs and ammunition in the SWAT vehicle, White said.

Ammunition is not stored in the building.

Police will be working with insurance, city officials and elected leaders as it plots a recovery course.

Construction of a new building is “at least a year down the road, even if I had a check to replace it," White said.

He said they are trying to identify every item that was destroyed in the fire. At last count, it was close to 600. 

“And it’s growing at the moment,” White said.

    The charred remains of a Coeur d'Alene police vehicle sit outside a building that was destroyed in a fire on Sunday.
    Investigators take a close look on Monday at what was left in a police building after it was destroyed in a fire Sunday.
    An investigator in a white suit stands on a second floor of the city building destroyed in a fire on Sunday, while the remains of a SWAT Bearcat vehicle sit on the ground level on Monday.