Since Patti and I moved to the valley in 1981, we’ve seen a lot of changes. The railroad was still here and I remember a train engine pulling a single car with lumber up to Ketchum. My kids were born in the old Hailey Medical Center that is now slated for community housing. During the shoulder seasons, a lot if not most businesses on Main Street closed down. The River Run lift went over the river and the bridge south of Ketchum was a scary two-lane affair.
One thing that has not changed is the site of the Ketchum Fire Department. When I became a volunteer firefighter in 1983, the department’s location was relatively new. The Fire Department had moved, in 1979 into the old auto dealership that was built in 1973. The location served its purpose well for many decades but as long as 16 years ago, the need for a new firehouse was recognized. As our population grew over the years, new development came, and with it, we now have commercial business-size homes in our community. We went from emergency medical technician-level medical transport service to paramedic level. The Fire Department went from about 28 members to the current 50. And the building continues to age.
In my years in public service in the Wood River Valley, I’ve served as not only a volunteer firefighter but also 10 years on the county Planning and Zoning Commission and nearly eight years as a Blaine County commissioner. In the late ’90s, I even served as a Ketchum Rural Fire District commissioner. My experience is that the most successful parts of our community are those that kept up with the public demand for service. When, during my time as a county commissioner, we realized the county needed a new jail, we articulated that need, the community agreed and we found a path forward to build it. When the Ambulance District needed a levy override to help provide paramedic service, we crossed that hurdle together. When the Wood River Trails needed a rebuild, we passed the two-year levy.
Now it’s time for a new fire station for Ketchum. It’s plain to anyone who walks through the station that it is literally and figuratively bursting at the seams with rescue equipment hanging all over the walls and vehicles needing to be parked outside.
We’ve been waiting a long time to find a new home for the firefighters and equipment and the time is right to act. In the Nov. 5 election, Ketchum voters have a chance to rectify the problem before it sends us down a path that is plainly unsafe. Public safety is a basic function of local government and our collective civic responsibility, but we must provide the tools to be successful—and to retain and recruit the staff and volunteers that keep the community safe.
This is a sensible investment in our city. For a modest increase in property tax, we will have a firehouse that will last 50 years and be a safe, healthy place from which to operate for our full-time and volunteer firefighters.
The time is now to commit to making the future a better place for those who are here and will come after us. Please join Patti and me in voting yes on the fire station bond on Nov. 5.
Tom Bowman is a former county commissioner who recently served as Ketchum interim fire chief.