Boise voters will decide Tuesday on a pair of bonds totaling more than $30 million. The larger of the two, at $17 million, goes toward building projects for Boise’s fire department.
If it passes, Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan will get to say goodbye to an old nemesis next to the Boise River and within sight of downtown. He looks up at a narrow five story tower while traffic roars by on the connector.
“This is our training facility currently,” Doan says. “It’s a concrete building that frankly is almost useless to us.”
Useless may be a bit harsh. Boise firefighters have been training here for more than 40 years. They can do some routine training exercises. They can run through a door and climb stairs with their equipment. They can rappel from the roof and climb a ladder to go through a window. They can spray water through that window as well. But the inside is so small they can’t train for different room configurations.
They can’t practice with the foam they use on oil and gas fires. Most importantly, Doan says they can’t train with fire. For live fire training they wait for someone to donate an old house and light it up.
“The problem with that is that even though we do it, and we’re grateful, is that it’s very, very, very dangerous,” Doan says. “With a [proper] training facility we can control it. We can use natural gas as the flame so that we could shut it off immediately if something goes bad.”
A new training center is the priciest item in the fire bond. But there are also upgrades to some old stations and replacements for others. Doan says they need to relocate some stations because as the city has grown, the placement is no longer optimal for quick response time.
A few miles away in Garden City, a fire station sits locked with an engine and ambulance inside. It’s been closed for three years. Paul Fortin sets an easel up in front of the station’s bay doors and puts up a map of the Boise area. It has fire stations marked with pins. He points to a silver pin in the middle he says is this station.
Fortin is retired after 25 years with Boise’s fire department. He’s running for city council now, challenging council president Maryanne Jordan. Another challenger, R. Brice Peterson is on the ballot but hasn’t run an active campaign. Fortin has made opposing the fire bond a key issue. Jordan supports it.
Fortin is critical of fire department money management. He says they have too many highly paid battalion chiefs and inspectors and could divert money away from expensive but rarely used equipment. He says by saving in those areas they could divert money to reopen this station and do other things he thinks should be at the top of the priority list.
Fortin points to the pins and quotes response times for different stations. He says because of the Garden City station’s central location, reopening it would help response time throughout the system.
Dennis Doan says he’d love to have the Garden City station operational but can’t because it’s not his. It belongs to the North Ada County Fire District. The district used to pay the Boise department to man the station but decided they could no longer afford it.
Doan says department staffing and equipment use are where they need to be but even if they weren’t he says, moving money around the budget as Fortin suggests wouldn’t solve their building needs. Fortin doesn’t see them as needs. He sees them as wants. Fortin’s not convinced the department needs a new training center. And even if they do he says going into debt is not the way to do it.
“Every year they take the max they can get of 3 percent raising the property tax level,” Fortin says. “And now they’re trying to bond us to death.”
His city council opponent Maryanne Jordan says the bond is the only way to afford the fire projects. She says because of the recession the city hasn’t been able keep up on needed capital improvements. They need a big chunk of money up front she says and doing it through a two year levy, the max allowed by law, would be too burdensome to tax payers. But a bond is harder to pass. A super majority of Boise voters have to say yes.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio