Former chief Bob Nickelsen with the new computerized sign at Station 2 on Tucker Road.
Anyone traveling Tucker Road just south of Hood River has seen the new sign at West Side Fire Department. Three weeks ago the department made the change from a static sign to one with that is digitally programmed with changing illuminated messages.
“It really allows us to more effectively get the message out about fire safety, as well as items of community interest,” said Fire Marshal Jim Trammell. The sign is at the department’s Station 2, built in the late 1970s.
The purchase of the sign was made possible by Bob Nickelsen, according to Trammell. Nickelsen, a board member and former chief, is in his 62nd year with the department. It has long been a department goal to upgrade the sign, but the purchase kept getting delayed.
Trammell said that every year department costs go up 3.7 percent but budgets increase by around 3 percent, so many of the “wish” list items get put off. One of those wishes was a new readerboard for Station 2.
The department headquarters is there, but training is done at the larger, older Station 1 in Rockford, which was built in the 1940s in a barn on the location on Barrett Road near Markham Road, and remodeled over the years. (The annual pancake breakfasts at Blossom and Harvest Festivals are held at Station 1.)
But Station 2 gets the most vehicle traffic — an average of 10,000 vehicle trips a day, according to Trammell. The department used it for burn permit information and seasonal fire prevention messages, but since the sign was static it could only contain one or two messages at a time,
“A new readerboard has been on our wish list for some time, and it kept getting put off,” Trammell said, as the West Side board chose to use resources for turnouts (firefighter protective gear) and other needs.
“The sign kept getting delayed and finally this year Bob said, ‘I’m going to make a donation,’” Trammell said. He declined to say how much Nickelsen gave but said the new sign cost $24,000. It was Nickelsen who, as chief in the 1970s, spearheaded the grant the department gained to build Station 2.
“I’m proud of it and would like to give more,” said Nickelsen, noting that the old sign needed repairs including rewiring.
“Everyone seems to like it. I told my kids it’s part of their inheritance,” he joked. “I’m proud to help out, the fire department has been my avocation for a lot of years.”
The department is still learning how to run the new sign, via computer at Station 2, or remotely, but ultimately it will have four or five messages rotating at a time, so people passing by can typically see all the messages within the space of a few days.
“It’s hard to put a value on what it does,” as a communications tool, Trammell said.
The old sign that had been at Station 2 was moved to Station 1, and so is the fire level sign, owned by Oregon Department of Forestry, with the manually adjusted dial for “low,” “moderate,” “high” or “extreme.” The fire levels will now be stated electronically at Station 2.
The ODF sign had been placed at Station 2 by ODF to provide wildland fire danger information as close as possible to town, according to Trammell.
The new Station 2 sign came programmed with “Welcome to West Side Fire Department” but otherwise the first messages on the sign were to thank Nickelsen and say, “Yes, the burn ban is still in effect.”
Nickelsen said Thursday, “I told them they can take my name off it.”