When South Kalispell Fire Chief Chris Yerkes started volunteering with the department in 2001, they received fewer than 40 calls the entire year.
“I remember the old guys talking about how busy it was,” Yerkes said.
Nearly twenty years later, the department had 500 calls in 2020, despite covering a shrunken district due to annexations.
The fire department has gradually grown out of a single station over the last decade, which includes six-bays, three engines, two water tenders and a heavy rescue apparatus in south Kalispell on Willow Glen Drive.
Now, the fire department is in the process of running an operational levy for voter approval this May to be applied toward a low interest loan for an additional fire station on Airport Road and to help with rising equipment costs.
“We’ve never asked for an increase (in funds) and we’re having trouble keeping up with those expenses,” Yerkes said.
The Gardner Family, who owns Gardner RV, has already donated five acres on the south end of Airport Road. If passed, taxpayers would contribute to the building and equipment costs. Ideally, the new fire station would have two engines, a water tender and potentially a wildland engine.
The district covers the south city limits to the border of Somers, east to Flathead River, Willow Glen Road and south of U.S. Highway 2. With some of the department’s 28 volunteers living on in the western portion of the district, Yerkes says the additional location will also help cut response times.
“For the people that live in the Airport Road corridor, it would make more sense to respond from a second station,” Yerkes said. “It would definitely cut down response time.”
In addition to response and efficiency, an extra fire station would also reduce Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings, which establishes fire scores for homeowners. Yerkes says they have the worst ISO rating of 10 on the west end of the district. An additional station would lower the rating to at least 6, reducing insurance costs.
“Right now, the Airport Road corridor is the fastest growing portion of that district,” Yerkes said.
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