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Northern Lakes Fire District gets $4.5 million federal grant to hire 12 firefighters

The Department of Homeland Security, 2021 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, will fund salaries and benefits for three years.
Credit: CDA Press

HAYDEN, Idaho — Northern Lakes Fire District Chief Pat Riley has six months to hire 12 firefighters.

That’s a challenge, but one he’s happy to accept.

“It’s not as easy as folks would think,” Riley said Monday. “We’re competing nationally with a whole lot of other departments.”

But he is determined to succeed because much is at stake.

Northern Lakes Fire was recently awarded a $4.5 million federal grant to hire 12 firefighters to staff a third station, as reported by our news partners, the Coeur d'Alene Press.

The Department of Homeland Security, 2021 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant, will fund salaries and benefits for three years.

“It’s phenomenal news for our department,” Riley said. “A huge boost.”

The third station will be in the Garwood area, staffed with two medics and two firefighter EMTs. It will reduce response times, improve safety and save lives and property, Riley said.

Opening the third station will also reduce insurance premiums for many homeowners, Riley said, and some who have had their insurance carriers drop them will be able to have their property insured again.

The district plans to have a new, modular building constructed for its Garwood station.

Funding for the station is not included in the grant, so it will be financed over several years, Riley said.

There is a caveat of sorts amid this good news.

After the three-year life of the grant, the district will seek an override levy to maintain all 12 firefighters and keep the Garwood station open.

“Or we’re going to lose them,” he said.

Since 2012, the fire district has attempted five levy overrides to increase service and improve response times, but has come up short each time. An override levy requires 66 2/3% to pass.

Most recently, in November, a $2 million permanent override levy, failed despite 60.6% support.

Riley had success with impact fees being implemented to fund the district.

The city of Rathdrum started collecting impact fees two months ago that will go to the district, while Hayden and Kootenai County proper residents in the fire district are set to do the same.

“We listened to the public to make growth pay for itself and be fiscally responsible with their tax dollars,” Riley said.

Northern Lakes Fire's coverage area is 108 square miles in the Rathdrum, Hayden and Twin Lakes areas, with about 60,000 residents. In 2021, it responded to 6,398 incidents. From 2013 to 2020, Northern Lakes Fire saw a 52% increase in emergency response.

The district, with stations in Rathdrum and Hayden, has 39 firefighters, three chief officers, a fire marshal, a deputy fire marshal, three administrative support staff and a fleet mechanic.

“We’re only getting busier,” Riley said.

That growth has led to some concerns.

In January, the Professional Firefighters of Northern Lakes commissioned what is called a Geographical Information System Emergency Service Response Capabilities Analysis by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

It found areas where Northern Lakes could improve, including response times and a need for more firefighters.

“The study's recommendations to open another station staffed 24/7 will help the department meet (National Protection Fire Association Standard) 1710 staffing and travel time objectives,” said a press release.

The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our partners, click here.

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