Wednesday, December 11, 2013

City inches ahead with Elkhorn remodel

Renovation would allow firefighters to stay overnight


By ERIC AVISSAR
Express Staff Writer

Remodeling the Elkhorn Fire Station so two Sun Valley firefighters can stay there overnight is expected to cut response times from the station in half.
During a Sun Valley City Council meeting on Thursday, Dec. 5, new Sun Valley Assistant Fire Chief Charles Butterfield said current response times for calls to the Elkhorn station at night average about 13-15 minutes. He said the department has viewed providing sleeping quarters to improve that time to be “vitally important.”
“As our demographics change, and we lose EMTs because of affordable housing, it’s something we’re not going to solve in the city of Sun Valley where the need is, so this is a solution,” Councilman Nils Ribi said. “All firemen support this. They’re very much in favor of this and see it as a huge benefit.”
Fire Chief Ray Franco said the remodel would likely cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
 “Having this facility not only increases our training, it increases our recruitment and gives us more options to better train our department to the standards of the rest of the country,” Franco said. “We want to recruit more highly trained people as younger firefighters become available. We don’t offer much to them, so they’re more likely to work elsewhere.”
The council voted by a 3-to-1 margin to go ahead with seeking a more accurate cost estimate and architectural drawings. Councilwoman Michelle Griffith was the lone dissenter.


We will save significant sums of money by doing this.”
Nils Ribi
City councilman




“I think what we need to do is determine what level of fire service protection we need to deliver to our citizens,” Griffith said. “You should tell us what your response time should be, and it should go through planned checks, then say what it is we want to offer, what do we have and what is the gap. This isn’t a Fire Department problem, this is a council problem.”
Griffith said she would like to see further study on the project and wanted the Fire Department to look into possible cheaper alternatives to the remodel in order to cut response times.
Councilman Nils Ribi staunchly disagreed.
“If this helps with recruitment and morale, that means it’s a big money saver because there will be a lower turnover rate,” he said. “Training is a huge expense for this city year in and year out.”
    Ribi also said he believes that once the city sees its savings from having a lower employee turnover rate within the Fire Department, then the money spent will turn out to be a good investment.
    “We have $200,000 in affordable housing that’s not earmarked,” he said. “We will save significant sums of money by doing this. This is what we’re here for, to take care of the infrastructure and the taxpayers of our city. The sooner we can do this project, the better.”
    Griffith said she did not oppose the project, but advocated that the city “crunch the numbers and see where we end up.”
    Ribi responded, “Every time I hear someone say, ‘Let’s study this some more and crunch the numbers, they’re just trying to kill this.”
    Councilman-elect Peter Hendricks agreed with Griffith that he would like to see more study on the potential project, but also emphasized the importance of improving the fire station.
    “I can see all the benefits for this move,” Hendricks said. “This is a no-brainer, and a benefit to the citizens, and we must take in the cost for the citizens. Unfortunately, I need more study on this, but that doesn’t mean I want to kill it. The amount of time, money and effort spent is critical to the ever-improving success of our city.”
Eric Avissar: eavissar@mtexpress.com




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