Northern Lakes Fire District receives grant to open third fire station

KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho. — The Northern Lakes Fire District is seeing an influx of service calls, and with fewer people on board, it’s taking them longer to answer people’s calls for help. But help is on the horizon. 

The Fire District was just awarded a $4.5 million grant to hire 12 firefighters and staff a third fire station for the area. The new station will be in Garwood, Idaho, and would decrease the time it takes for fire crews to respond to that area, while also alleviating staffing issues. Firefighters in the district say they don’t just need a third station, but a fourth as well.

“We actually need a fourth station, so we’re already short staffed we also are running short on the engines. We have to go down to two members where it should be three at least. So that for structure fires and everything, that extra hand or a lack of extra hands could be detrimental,” said Nate Combes, a firefighter and paramedic for the Northern Lakes Fire District. 

Combes says they’ve felt the strain of a shorter staff while covering over 100 miles of land.

“A lot of people don’t call 911 all the time so they don’t realize, but when they do call 911, they want us there quickly. For us to do that we have to have the manpower and the stations.”

Soon, Kootenai County residents will have access to that third station and more firefighters.

“This has been sorely needed for many years,” said Chief Pat Riley. He said the Fire District has tried five times to pass an override levy to try and increase the fire district’s funding, and that this grant is their last resort to try and get these extra firefighters into the community.

“So putting this additional fire engine up there in an area that’s it’s protected, but it’s a long response. Number one, it will cut down the response that we have in our two station areas, and it’ll provide a service for the citizens up there and the insurance premiums for those citizens,” Riley said.

Riley also said the new station and firefighters will make it faster for emergency crews to respond to calls. Right now, it takes them more than double the time it should to respond to these calls.

“The rule is we need to meet greater than 90 percent of the time or at least 90 percent of the time we need to arrive on the scene with the first advanced life support unit in less than five minutes. Right now we’re averaging a very sad number of about 11.5 to 12 minutes strictly due to sheer growth, volume, and the fire fighting force that we have.”

Once those three years are up, the future of that station and those firefighter’s jobs is uncertain.

“So at the end of three years period if we, we’re gonna need to secure funding through another levy override, or the unfortunate part of this is the publics gonna be put to a vote to either support it or we’re gonna have to close the fire station that we just opened three years ago,” Riley said. 

He added that even though this may only last three years, their need is so great that it would still be better than not having it at all.

RELATED: Grant allows Northern Lakes Fire to staff third station with 12 firefighters