Tents, trailers are interim fire station in Hood River

June 1, 2011

Go "to the cloud" to find another of the firefighter's many tools.

"It's Wi-Fi equipped," Fire Marshal Peter Mackwell said of the one trailer that serves as dining hall, recreation and meeting room and backup office at the temporary fire hall complex, set up last month while the fire hall built in 1986, is demolished and rebuilt.

That work started last week; Corp Inc. of Portland has the contract to rebuild the station at the same location, due for completion in December.

While they wait for a facility that has triple the space and sufficient areas for vehicle storage, the firefighters are working from confined space in trailers and - for the vehicles and equipment - tents and a steel storage container.

"It's a small price to pay for what we are going to get," Mackwell said. The temporary fire HQ is located on the west end of the city/county public works complex, on 18th Street across the street from the fire hall.

"It's kind of cramped, but we're making the best of it," said EMT-paramedic Jason Wilkins as he completed a report using his laptop in the multipurpose trailer.

"We work together to make it work," Mackwell said.

The off-duty trailer has phones, desks, a TV (for training and entertainment) and large easy chairs.

Next door is an office trailer with work stations for the duty crew - the five paid members of the department on each shift - and a small office for Chief Devon Wells.

There are two other trailers: a dormitory and one for food preparation. The "mess" trailer contains the appliances and counter space typical of a small kitchen.

"We're never without the coffee pot," Mackwell said. But there is nowhere to sit down, so staff must cook their meals and carry the food next door to the multipurpose trailer.

Kept under cover of tents are the engines and ambulance. It is critical that the ambulance and support vehicles be kept out of the rain and sun, to protect the sensitive medical and life support equipment, medicines and supplies that are kept on board.

However, there is currently no room under cover for the brush truck or the newest, and largest, piece of equipment, Tower 3, with its center-mounted tower for tall structure attacks. It's too big for any of the curve-top tents, so the department is negotiating with the county to borrow an adjacent building for Tower 3 storage.

Engine 4 and Medic 3 units are staged elsewhere, in the city's Wilson Street facility, about nine blocks east of the public works complex. The complex contains three storage buildings, one of which had been outfitted with plywood "rooms" for use in emergency training. The props have been removed to make way for the vehicles.

Also in storage at Wilson Street are the volunteer firefighters' "turnouts," the protective coats, pants and helmets. When a fire call goes out, the firefighters report to Wilson Street instead of the fire hall, and respond from there.

While in flux, there are two main things the firefighters miss the most, according to Mackwell: the physical training room and the hose tower.

Firefighters are "self-motivated" to find other ways to stay in shape, at Big Gym or Hood River Sports Club or other venues, but they do miss having a facility at the same location as the station.

The hose tower provides a multi-story training facility as well as a place to hang hoses, which helps dry them before rolling up for the next use. This prevents mildew buildup and prolongs the life of the hoses. Without the tower, firefighters must lay the hoses out and use forced air to dry them.

"We miss the hose tower and the place to train but this situation does give us a chance to get a little more involved in fire prevention and reaching out to the community," Mackwell said. He said firefighters will do outreach on smoke detector installation and upkeep, and helping businesses develop pre-fire preparations: identifying where hazardous materials are kept, what fire alarms and sprinklers are in use, the air flow in the building, and other factors.

Throughout the transition to the new facility, according to Mackwell, "there has been a real cooperative effort with other departments and with other agencies."

And, as firefighters gather in the multipurpose trailer, they will see a reminder of the former fire hall: on the front of the handmade television cabinet is a panel with the letters "HRFD," salvaged from a door on the demolished fire hall.

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