After only two years of existence the Washington Community Fire District is hitting its stride and delivering on promises made to the taxpayers who created it.
In April 2016 voters approved the creation of the district that covers a 55-square-mile radius surrounding the 10-square-mile city of Washington fire district.
In a strange twist of circumstances, although voters approved the creation of the district, they did not approve a 30-cent tax funding source in the April 2016 election.
Instead, proponents regrouped and got the funding passed in August 2016.
District President Don Wildt says the four-month snafu cost the district about $75,000 before it could spend a penny toward its promises to the district residents.
“It cost us $15,000 for election fees and another $58,000 in lost taxes,” Wildt said. “We started out losing. So, now our five-year plan will actually take closer to six years.”
He added the five-member fire district board of directors are 100 percent pro-firefighter.
“We try to give the firemen whatever they want,” Wildt said. “They are the ones who know what they need and we trust them.”
Fire Chief Tim Frankenberg explained the plan sold to taxpayers to convince them to form the district was to make extensive upgrades to Station 5 in Krakow and purchase a new tanker and pumper to serve that portion of the community.
Because of the high start-up and operating costs, and zero revenues at the beginning, the fire district also entered into an agreement with the city of Washington to help offset costs of workers’ compensation and fleet insurance.
That plan was to give the city 10 percent of the tax revenues the first year, then increase it by 10 percent each year up to 50 percent annually.
“It was the most feasible economically,” Frankenberg said. “The agreement has worked out very well and the cooperation between the city and the district has been great. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
Wildt explained the fire district brings in about $475,000 annually and last year budgeted about $413,000 for the promised improvements and the payment to the city of Washington.
Since the formation of the district, it has spent more than $92,000 on the upgrades to Station 5, including concrete, structural, electrical, and roofing and painting, just to name a few. Much of the work has been done by the firefighters themselves.
“That station was built in 1989 and has had no major improvements,” Frankenberg said. “There was not a funding source, so it was basically just being kept afloat. Now we can make the improvements.”
He added the installation of a new fire alarm at the building may have already been worth every penny.
“It basically paid for itself in the first month,” Frankenberg said. “There were batteries that were overheating and it was filling the station with hydrogen gas.”
The nearly $100,000 station upgrades included the installation of wall beds and upgrades to make the station inhabitable if the future need arises for firefighters to sleep there.
Just before the beginning of 2018, a 2,100-gallon tanker was purchased to be housed at Station 5 to bring much needed water to the rural areas where no fire hydrants are located.
“The truck cost the district $257,000 with no equipment,” Frankenberg said. “Then we had to buy about another $15,000 in loose equipment.”
The new pumper is expected to be delivered in August and will come with a price tag of $504,000.
Frankenberg said he can consistently rely on about 11 firefighters to respond to Station 5 if calls come in for that area. They are backed up by manpower and apparatus from the other Washington stations as well.
“The majority of those calls are car wrecks on Highways A and KK,” Frankenberg said. “We can always use more volunteers in the Krakow area.”
Next up for the district will be further development of a donated piece of property in the Campbellton area for yet another new station to serve residents in that area.
Another major task is replacing the self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBA) firefighters wear into hazardous conditions.
Frankenberg said the replacements will cost about $300,000, but the city will be able to take advantage of the city/district partnership to apply for grants through the lower funded district.
To highlight how far the district has come in its first two years, an open house will be held at Station 5 Sunday, June 2, from noon to 4 p.m.
Frankenberg encourages residents in that area to come out and see the improvements to the station, see the new tanker and design plans for the new pumper, which also will be on display.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for a while, we just needed time to make the improvements and have something to show the residents,” he said. “There will be house tours, truck tours and activities for kids. We are kind of dovetailing with the St. Gertrude Parish picnic across the street.”