During a regular Yelm City Council study session last week, communications officer Joyce Willms and commissioner Jeff Dehan, both with Southeast Thurston Fire Authority, presented to the council their intent to apply for a $900,000 capital facilities grant from the state and asked for the support of the council.
“The citizens of Yelm deserve emergency medical services and fire protection 24/7,” Fire Chief Mark King wrote in a letter to the council. “The population of Yelm is over 9,000 and still growing. The Yelm schools have over 5,900 students in attendance. We are asking you, mayor and city council members, to endorse the grant to remodel the fire station at Lake Lawrence.”
If the department is successful with its grant application, the funds will be used to reopen the Lake Lawrence fire station, which is currently out of commission and unable to house any firefighters.
Reopening the Lake Lawrence fire station would help the fire authority keep resources at its main station central to Yelm, and overall would decrease call times.
“If they have an emergency call at Lake Lawrence, it can take 40 minutes just to drive back and forth. And that’s not time on the scene,” Willms said. “This is about saving lives. Seconds do count.”
Willms said garnering the support of the council would help their application in the Legislative selection process.
“This would give us a higher probability of keeping services in town regardless of if we have another call out there,” Dehan said. “Most traditional calls for services, we would be able to keep service in Yelm as well as being able to service people out there in unincorporated.”
Southeast Thurston’s plan to apply for a grant is apart of a larger mission many years in the making to remodel its Rainier and Lake Lawrence stations due to crumbling infrastructure and an increase in call volumes.
The fire authority plans on putting a bond measure before voters sometime in 2020, and in the meantime is planning on mitigating the cost to taxpayers by applying for both state and federal grants.
Yelm Mayor JW Foster, a career firefighter, said he can attest to the phenomenon of the “back-to-back” fire call.
“When you have your resources committed to one call, to have that ability to have a backup to respond to the other call, especially in the more rural part of their district, is essential to keeping those response teams available,” Foster said.
Council member Tad Stillwell said residents could see their insurance premiums cut in half thanks to a commissioned fire station at Lake Lawrence.
“I think it’s really important we consider supporting this, more than safety but also the financial reasons,” Stillwell said.
Council member Joe DePinto said he grew up around the Lake Lawrence area and remembers the station very well. He said it’s unfortunate they can’t currently respond to calls from the station.
“These folks have a Yelm address. While they don’t live inside the city limits, and we don’t represent them technically, this is a way we can help represent them and give them a voice that they otherwise wouldn’t have besides county commissioners,” DePinto said.
Southeast Thurston provides services to approximately 35,000 citizens and covers about 84 square miles.