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Firefighters Uncouple Hoses, Ushering in New Fire Station
Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Jim Plomasen eyeballed the shiny red doors on the new Ketchum fire station Monday afternoon and smiled.

“This new station is long overdue,” he said. “The sleeping arrangements in the former station were terrible—people sleeping on mattresses in the corner because there was only enough room for a couple beds. When we were trying to get Ketchum residents to vote for the bond in 2019, we urged them to  tour the old fire station, then told them to take a tour of the new animal shelter. ‘Where do you think the firefighters would be happiest sleeping?’ we asked.”

Ketchum Fire Chief Bill McLaughlin and Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw screwed apart two giant red fire hoses Monday in a hose uncoupling ceremony—firefighters’ version of a ribbon cutting.

City Council members helped hold the hose as about three dozen Ketchum firefighters and many more members of the public looked on.

The $11 million, 16,000-square foot fire station was completed two weeks ahead of schedule and at least a half-million dollars under budget, noted Ketchum Mayor Neil Bradshaw. Its energy and water savings make it on track for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Today is a happy day, a chance to celebrate the culmination of a long process to find a home for our first responders,” Bradshaw said. “For too long they’ve been in a cramped environment that was not healthy.”

The new facility north of the Wood River YMCA and across the street from the Church of the Big Wood is still undergoing some finishing touches. But it triples the space for the fire department’s 12 paid firefighters and paramedics, two chief officers and 45 volunteers.

McLaughlin said the new site will allow firefighters quick access to Sun Valley and the Warm Springs area with 14-foot-tall doors that fold out in an instant. Gone will be the congestion involved in trying to make an exit in the busy Atkinsons’ Market/Ketchum Town Square area.

“The doors are more reliable than the old ones. They open faster,” said McLaughlin.

Outside on the northwest corner of the building is a red siren apparatus that resembles a miniature lighthouse. It is actually an air raid siren probably attained from World War II surplus, said former volunteer firefighter Dave Lister who grew up in Ketchum.

The siren formerly was stationed at the original city hall at 4th and Main streets and later moved to what is now Enoteca Restaurant. If someone’s house caught on fire, someone would drive to the fire station where they would write the name of the family whose house was on fire, then press a button to sound the alarm.

“It was really loud,” Lister said. “If you sounded it here, you’d be able to hear it in Sun Valley.”

The fire station replaces what was a former car dealership that was part of Ketchum’s current city hall.  Over the forty years the fire station has occupied the building, diesel soot has darkened the wall, dry wall has rotted and part of the ceiling collapsed.

Ambulances had an inch clearance on either side in the old garage. Ditto for the ceiling above the ladder truck. The new garage has ample room for the two ambulances and three fire trucks currently parked in it, along with electric bikes to access people in the backcountry. And there’s plenty of room for a few more vehicles.

The pavement outside the garage is heated so firefighters won’t have to clear it of snow. Nor will trucks have to climb up a sloped runway to get out as they did in the previous building.

A 22-step climb—or an elevator ride—up to the second floor takes firefighters to six small dorm rooms.  The new rooms can accommodate the four firefighters staffing each shift with room to expand. And McLaughlin expects that will come sooner than later given the valley’s growing population.

McLaughlin said the fire department expects to receive about 1,100 calls this year, up from 900 in 2020.

“We’re getting two and three and four calls at a time more frequently,” McLaughlin said. “Accidents are up. Medicals are up. We’re seeing the number of people recreating here up.”

Next to the dorm rooms is an expansive kitchen and living area, which looks out onto Baldy and Ketchum’s colorful fall foliage. The kitchen features three large refrigerators with an island firefighters can sit around. Four easy chairs situated around a flat-screen TV with a dog bed placed in front of it.

A large table offers space for both dining and computers.

A first-floor training room can hold 48 people at the tables—enough to seat the entire department of paid and volunteer firefighters. Before, the firefighters had to park fire engines outside while they trained inside the garage.

“Before, training was primitive—with a white board. Now we can train our firefighters with a computer program,” McLaughlin said.

The first floor also contains small offices and a radio room. A direct link from dispatch flashes an address on a screen so firefighters can see it, instead of having to rely on what they hear on their pagers.

Adjacent to the garage are lockerrooms holding fire gear, a supply room stocked with backcountry skis, waders and other gear necessary to perform flooding or avalanche rescues and a laundry filled with state-of the-art washers and dryer to clean carcinogens from burning furniture off uniforms.

A special hose cleaner allows firefighters to clean carcinogens off fire hoses.

Ketchum Fire Captain Miles Canfield beamed as he watched people mill around three fire trucks and two ambulances stationed inside.

“My favorite part? The windows!” he said. “It is wonderful having light after being in that dark building so long.”

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