Fire dept. increases response size near homeless shelter after threats, vandalism

Fire dept. increases response size near homeless shelter after threats, vandalism

The Spokane Fire Department is changing how it answers calls after threats against on-duty firefighters going to help near a downtown homeless shelter.

According to Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, people have tagged equipment and threatened firefighters.

“They’ve been armed by what we would identify as weapons, pipes and other methods of blunt force trauma,” Schaeffer said. “We’ve had our equipment tagged, damaged, and one of the ambulances was entered and attempted to be stolen while they attempted to take care of patients.”

That’s why, about three months ago, changes came to the department.

Schaeffer said now an extra vehicle goes and at least six people respond to calls for help near the homeless shelter. Some firefighters are there to help with what’s usually a medical emergency, while others look out for any danger.

“It’s a risk and we have to adapt our serve to what the needs of the community are and I can’t do that without making sure that the employees are safe,” Schaeffer said.

The City of Spokane is adapting, too.

In July, the city and House of Charity agreed to end the 24/7 shelter program. City leaders determined it wasn’t a safe or effective solution.

Catholic Charities continues to provide some on-sight sleeping options for men and women. The facility also still serves meals.

Now, the city is looking for new places for warming shelters for this winter. A new shelter is scheduled to open next July.

Meantime, Chief Schaeffer said he’ll continue to evaluate how his department responds to make sure first responders are safe while they work.

“There’s a very, very complex situation here, in our urban core, that can’t be solved with an off the shelf solution,” Schaeffer said. “This organization is going to evolve to meet the need of the people, whether they’re in an alley, or in the House of Charity, or, like this morning, in an apartment fire where they need to be rescued.”