Sure, the official ribbon cutting at Vancouver’s Station 6 didn’t draw the mayor, city council and dozens of other community members, but it got the job done.
Four firefighters, three city employees and one citizen circled a tree behind the Burton-area station on Monday morning. The celebration was cut short.
Just as Capt. Carl Murray took a pair of medical shears to the ribbon, an alarm went off. They had a call. Murray quickly snipped the ribbon and followed the two other on-duty firefighters into the station and onto Engine 6. After a few seconds, the engine took off. It was the third time the engine left the station since it was staffed Sunday night.
“That was awesome,” Mary Elkin said of the call. “That says it all right there.”
Elkin is president of Friends of Fire Station 6, a group that lobbied the city council to reopen the station. Elkin and other people who live near the station saw local response times rise slightly after it closed on Dec. 31.
“There’s a need,” Elkin said after the ribbon cutting. “They were missed.”
Indeed. The Monday crew had seven calls — six medical responses and a freeway car crash — in its first 16 hours.
Elkin, during the past 10 months, noted when firefighters from other areas responded to her neighborhood.
“It was like fire station bingo,” she said.
That game, for the most part, ended Monday, but a whole new one began.
The station’s three on-duty firefighters spent part of the day Monday getting the station up and running in addition to their usual duties. That meant talking with dispatch to get the station’s calls broadcasted through speakers in the station, fixing the engine’s cell phone so it would receive dispatch texts and finding out where they could get a few more bath towels.
The station at 3216 N.E. 112th Ave. was repainted and restocked with supplies ahead of the reopening. It only had three bath towels, so firefighters hoped to get more just in case they needed to take more than one shower on their shift.
“Ideally, you’re supposed to have all the conveniences of home because you’re here for 24 hours (on each shift),” Murray told The Columbian.
He spent about five years at the station in the past and was one of the last firefighters to work there before it closed in 2010. Since the station was emptied, he had a bit of trouble finding things, he said.
“There’s no routine at this station,” he said.
Firefighters spent a good portion of the morning filling out reports and completing administrative duties at the station. Firefighter-paramedic Kevin Stromberg, also working on Monday, took an inventory of the station’s and engine’s medical supplies.
Working out the bugs
A few times during the day, a loud test tone and call echoed through the house-turned-firehouse’s rooms. Just a reminder that things weren’t quite on track yet.
“See, these are the types of bugs we have to work out,” Murray said as a tone went off without the station cell phone re
ceiving a text message.
He said the station never should have closed in the first place.
There are 33,000 people living in the station’s coverage area who pay the same tax rate and should have the same coverage, Murray said.
Reopening the station means that nearby stations won’t have to cover the Burton area anymore and firefighters can provide better service to the community, Murray said.
Firefighter Matt Bishop, who was the third firefighter working at the station on Monday, often tells people, “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”
The station was closed due to cuts in the city’s budget and saved, in part, thanks to a $2.3 million federal grant. The federal money allowed the department to hire 13 recruits who will eventually replace firefighters lost when the station closed in January.
Many of the new recruits hired by the grant started working on Sunday, said fire department spokesman Capt. Kevin Murray (no relation to Capt. Carl Murray). Recruits joined more experienced firefighters and captains at stations spread across Vancouver. They completed an accelerated academy on Nov. 4.
For now, Station 6 is staffed by skaters, people who fill in at different stations for other people, Murray said. The permanent staff assigned to the station is expected to start working there in January.