Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bellevue Fire Department comes of age in lean times

Agency boasts 17 volunteers and counting

Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue City Council could decide Thursday, Feb. 23, to move ahead with the purchase of a $270,000 "pumper" fire truck for the city's new fire station. If the council proceeds with the purchase, it will be the latest sign of an improving Bellevue Fire Department, one that has shored up resources during lean economic times.

The city swapped two parcels of its property to acquire the new fire station building at 517 N. Second St. All told, the cost of the new building and truck will be about $470,000, said Fire Chief Greg Beaver. That figure is about one-tenth the amount that the city was planning to spend on a fire station seven years ago.

City Planning Director Craig Eckles wrote a memo to the City Council two weeks ago reminding it that a plan to build and outfit a new fire station in 2006 was budgeted at about $3 million.

"We/you have done an amazing job in accomplishing some costly capital improvement projects," Eckles wrote.

The $3 million station would have been 10,000 square feet, compared with the 3,300-square-foot building in use today, but that may be all the city needs for the time being.

"It is sufficient," Beaver said. "Far more sufficient than where we were. The utility costs are about half what we were paying."

In 2005 and 2006, a proposed annexation of land belonging to developers John Sherer and Harry Rinker at the southern end of town was expected to bring higher population densities into the city. Rinker and Sherer would have been responsible for a share of costs for upgrades to city infrastructure, including portions of the cost of a new fire station.

But times have changed. The projected 4.9 percent population growth in 2006 would have swelled the Bellevue population to more than 3,000 by 2012. In fact, the population today is only 2,200, less than the estimated 2,518 people who lived in the town in 2007.

Beaver said he had no idea where the projected $3 million fire station costs came from back in 2006 because he was not consulted at that time in the planning of the proposed new station.

"The one time I looked at [comparable] Wood River Station 3, south of Bellevue, I estimated it would cost only $200,000 to build," he said.

Seven years ago, Beaver said, he sized up the building that now houses the new fire station and estimated that it would have cost $900,000 then, compared with an estimated value of $400,000 three years ago, due to the real estate crash.

Despite changing times and dropping property values, Beaver said the city's fire department has seen a boost in volunteers and morale in recent months.

"Back in 2006, we had seven to 10 members, and I said that if we went below seven we would be in trouble. Today we have 17 members. A lot of applicants are looking for careers, but we get a lot of working people who are looking to work as volunteers," Beaver said.

Beaver said he is very pleased with the increase in volunteer support for the Fire Department.

"I do believe this is the result of an upgraded station and the council backing us up," he said. "Maybe the publicity about renewed support for the Bellevue Fire Department has helped also."

In other Bellevue news:

( Jamie Hoover will be named Bellevue Firefighter of the year at a City Council meeting Thursday, Feb. 23, at 6:30 p.m.

Tony Evans:

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