By Eric Goodell
TWIN FALLS, Idaho — It's not just a building. It's a symbol of safety and security.
And the new fire station that was unveiled at the grand opening in Twin Falls on Tuesday is big enough to move around in.
Maybe that's why all the firefighters gathered there for the event seemed to have happy faces.
"It's a great day for the fire department; it's a great day for the citizens of Twin Falls," said Chief Les Kenworthy as he addressed the crowd.
"It isn't just brick and mortar," Kenworthy said. "But it is really a symbol of safety and security and commitment to the wellbeing of our residents and those visiting Magic Valley."
The new fire station, near Washington Street and Cheney Drive, will replace the old station on Falls Avenue and will feature three drive-thru bays and six sleep rooms. The 13,000-square-foot facility is more than four times larger than the old station.
The area in the bays is enough to put all the fire apparatus inside, instead of having to keep some outside where it is exposed to the elements. Deputy Fire Chief Mitchell Brooks, who has been with the fire department for 24 years, said it will be the first time the station has been able to do that.
He called the station "a safe and functional space to serve our community."
The fire station, which is expected to be staffed by four or five firefighters plus a battalion chief, will also have space for a decontamination area separated from living quarters, to better keep office space and living areas clean.
Of all the amenities in the fire station, former captain Dwayne Tucker, who served in the department from 1977 to 2003, told the Times-News that the feature is perhaps the most valuable of all.
Being exposed to toxic chemicals and compounds is the part of the profession that kills more firefighters than blazes do, Tucker said. Some dangers that firefighters faced weren't known when he first started his career, but people became more aware of them through the years.
Even with a simple garage fire, there might be insecticides, fertilizers, sprays and other burning substances present that cause a health hazard, he said.
On a somber note, Tucker said that out of the class of firefighters who went through his career with him, he knows at least five who are suffering from prostate cancer.
Questions began to be raised in 2017 about the condition of the city's fire stations. After all, a fire station hadn't been built in the city since the early 1970s.
A $36 million bond issue proposed to build new fire stations was turned down by voters in 2019, but even though it narrowly failed at the ballot box, it didn't change the fact that fire stations needed to be upgraded, Mayor Ruth Pierce said.
A scaled-down plan, using a combination of impact fees and anticipation notes from the general and enterprise funds helped build the new fire station No. 2 as well as build a new fire station No. 3 near Orchard Drive and Shoshone Street. That building is still under construction and the groundbreaking took place a year from Tuesday.
Although financing the construction without raising taxes might have been difficult, "I think it is always important to try to find creative solutions," City Manager Travis Rothweiler said. "I think, as an organization, we pride ourselves to be nimble and dynamic and this is a testament to that."
Mandi Thompson, assistant to the city manager and the designated project manager, said she "learned the value of good partnerships in projects like this."
The city council appointed Pivot North Architects to design the buildings, along with Starr Corporation as the city's construction manager and general contractor for the projects.
Final accounting is not yet finished, but the new station is expected to cost about $8.4 million.
Kenworthy said it will be about two weeks before firefighters begin the transition into the new station.