Recently, Kalispell’s union firefighters publicized the temporary closure of Station 62 as reflective of an understaffed fire department. The Kalispell North Fire Station was built in 2006 for $2.8 million. At the time of its build, the then city council was on an expansion quest of virtually all city buildings under the misplaced belief that the city population would continue to grow exponentially. When I became mayor in 2010, we were in the midst of an economic recession, and the envisioned population boom that these debt-ridden projects relied upon never occurred. And without the predicted growth, payment for the debts became difficult, so difficult in fact that council members discussed filing for bankruptcy.
When I toured Station 62 in 2010, I was struck by its emptiness. It felt like a ghost town, with only two staff members reliably present on any given day. Its role was primarily storage of extra equipment. As it was the highest-priced storage facility around, we discussed trying to find another use for the building that would help generate revenue because its use as a functioning fire station was nebulous at best. When my term as mayor ended in 2013, Station 62 remained largely dormant.
Kalispell has a phenomenal fire department, composed of highly-skilled, dedicated public servants. Kalispell asks its firefighters to not only to prevent fire damage but to serve us as paramedics in the operation of our ambulance service. The ambulance service offsets some of the fire department costs, resulting in tax savings to Kalispell residents. This is a fact. Station 62’s temporary closure of several days may seem significant; yet, factually, it is a reflection of two open and currently funded positions that haven’t yet been filled by qualified job applicants. The union personnel has indicated the temporary closure is a reflection of a bigger issue and would like additional staff to account for increased growth in the city’s population over the last seven years. Because our taxpayers are skeptical of any increases in taxes (as evidenced by the rejection of multiple recent emergency services levies), the union would be wise to substantiate their request with undisputed facts including: population growth between 2010 and 2020 within Kalispell City limits; the number of calls annually dispatched from Station 62 between 2010 and 2020; the number of fires Station 62 responded to annually between 2010 and 2020; response time from call to scene from Station 62 versus Station 61.
Emotional, knee-jerk decisions nearly bankrupted the Kalispell in the past, and another economic recession may be just around the corner. This issue should be addressed by elected leaders and public servants through discussion of facts, not rhetoric to ensure public trust of decisions with long-term public service and financial ramifications.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.