Firefighters, we respect them. We get out of their way when they’re racing to a scene. We crowd around their trucks when they’re at a fair or a parade. We can tend to think that every firefighter is like every other firefighter, hanging out at a fire station while waiting for a call that demands immediate action. Yes, and no.
But what does firefighting look like on an island? Follow along as we discuss firefighting island style.
Firefighting Island Style
Oak Harbor is a city with paid firefighters and a place where a lot is going on in a small space. Trucks have to navigate a grid of streets and the traffic on them. Houses are close and that can mean fires are close, too, but so are fire hydrants. There are plenty of stereotypes that can apply. Spotted mascot optional.
In most parts of the country that might be enough, but the island is large enough and long enough that some other solutions are necessary. If the neighborhood is remote enough, they may have some creative solutions to fight fires in the interim after getting to safety and making that call to 911. An easy situation to imagine is a waterfront house that may require a fireboat. It takes time to collect the crew, launch the boat, and power their way to the site – tides, currents, and weather allowing. A lot can happen in the first few minutes of a fire. Any help can be appreciated – and incredibly valuable.
Rural areas also have to guard against brushfires and barn fires. Long roads mean accidents can happen far from the station. Even places that are accessible by a pickup may be too windy and twisty to maneuver in a firetruck, which eventually also has to turn around and get back to the station. Some fires may even be on boats, both in the marina and off-shore.
A Unique Mix
At the other end of the scale is the unique fire district that is the Navy’s. Airports have special requirements and tools, and military airports have to handle even more specialized situations because of what their planes can carry. The need for an immediate response is an understatement.
Fortunately, while there are various types of firefighting arrangements, when the need is there they all gather to help each other. City, base, and rural doesn’t matter as much as ‘where is the fire and how can we help?’
If you haven’t heard much about the variety, great! That means the crews are doing what they have to do to stay out of the headlines. In firefighting, boring can be good. Too exciting can be too much. This is firefighting island style.
Whidbey has some other attributes worth remembering. Whidbey is a lot of small-town America wrapped around a city and a base. Most of it has fewer people because it is rural. That also means that firefighting crews can sometimes be understaffed. (Pay attention to the election initiatives to see their current situation.) While rural can be quaint, sometimes the small-town nature that leads to smaller firefighting crews becomes critically apparent. A few places have paid firefighters, but much of the island is served by a few stations with a few paid firefighters who rely heavily on backup volunteers. They have rules to follow, just like the rest of us. (In 2018, another fire department in WA was cited for violating the state’s version of OSHA’s two-in two-out requirement.) Of course, more paid firefighters mean they need more budget. Not an easy problem. Think about that. A few paid people; and other people who risk their lives for us for free. They deserve greater thanks than they receive. (Please, volunteer!)
Surprisingly the bulk of their workload comes from medical emergencies. Over 60% of their time is spent with Basic Life Support calls where they work side by side with the paramedics. In some places that is over 80%. They have to be ready for everything: motor vehicle accidents, rescues on land or on water, storm responses, traffic control, power outages, and downed lines. It isn’t just about fires and ambulances.
So much for sitting around the firehouse. These people are busy.
How you can help
Of course, there are ways to keep them less busy (and keep costs down). Much of this is variations of the messages we’ve heard since school: follow safety instructions, keep fresh batteries in smoke detectors, make sure any electrical work is done right, remove trash and other flammables. Some things are even simpler: don’t leave burning candles or fire unattended, don’t burn during burn bans, handle fireworks legally and safely. Keep fire extinguishers handy and up-to-date.
There are plenty of other precautions, but that’s part of being a responsible adult.
How this relates to homeowners on Whidbey
Understanding a place’s fire situation is also something to keep in mind when considering buying a house. What is the firefighters’ response time? Where’s the nearest hydrant or nearest firehouse (is it even staffed)? Is the house marked well enough for a crew to be able to find it in the dark, maybe during a storm? Your insurance company may have some ideas to add to the list.
If you live in rural Island County some additional services they might offer include: installing high visibility house address numbers; home safety surveys to reduce the risk of harm from fire, accident, or illness; smoke and carbon monoxide detector check; fire inspections for businesses; CPR training; child car seat safety checks.
Chief Helm says “In an emergency, we need to be as efficient as possible, and the partnership between homeowners and the fire department is critical. Maintaining reflective address signs and driveways that fire trucks can navigate down is very important. One of our biggest hurdles is locating the emergency in a hurry, and then navigating a driveway that may or may not be able to handle a 40,000lb, 11-foot tall truck. Many times, the storybook-style narrow wandering lane, sounds peaceful and relaxing, but can pose serious problems if our trucks cannot access your house. Please remember to maintain not only driveways but the surrounding vegetation and hanging branches that will damage a truck the size of ours. Together with your help, we make this Island a safer place to live and work. We are more than happy to visit your driveway and test fit our apparatus, as well as bring you a reflective address sign anytime.”
One of the most delightful rural traditions on Whidbey is the annual Santa Mobile where Central Whidbey Fire Department drives around different neighborhoods with Santa Claus on top of one of their Fire Engine for multiple nights in a row in December. They will put out a schedule and a map on their Facebook page in preparation every year. Kids love it! It’s also a fundraiser for collecting food and donations for the food pantry in Coupeville.
Fortunately, most folks pay attention to safety. It’s part of being a homeowner and a good neighbor. Do enough of those boring but necessary steps, and free up time to relax and enjoy the rest of island life. Just check for burn bans before stoking up a campfire.
If you have additional questions about firefighting island style your reliable Windermere real estate agent can help you get them answered. Don’t have an agent? Connect with us here.
Have you driven down SE Pioneer Street recently? Perhaps the stunning new artwork by Timothy Haslet captured your eye.
Over the past five years, programs like the Allgire Project, Oak Harbor Main Street Association commissions, and fire hydrant painting projects have led to an increase in art downtown. For years though, a deteriorating mural from the 70s resided on the exterior wall of Riverside Café in desperate need of revision. Shortly prior to Memorial Day weekend, this beautiful mural of a Prowler passing Deception Pass was revealed in its place. Artist Timothy Haslet says, “This mural relates to my series on Navy Planes.”
Welcome Oak Harbor
He wanted to fit a Navy Plane within the context of Deception Pass, with the overall goal of depicting who we are as a community. Timothy wants to send the message “Welcome to Oak Harbor” to the people moving here from all over the country and the world. His goal is to “create something that could be recognizable and identifiable by our diverse community.” Historically Haslet’s work consisted primarily of landscapes.
Why the change?
A recent article by Kathy Reed in the Whidbey Weekly revealed, that “as he was processing this new direction in his art, conflict over jet noise within the Whidbey community occupied a great deal of his thoughts.” A question came to Haslet that he knew he needed to solve, “What would a picture of ‘the best of both worlds’ look like?” He pondered, “who are we, as a community, and where are we going? Can we create artwork that could be a bridge between the two?” Read the rest of her article here.
This beautiful masterpiece is his answer to that question for all to enjoy no matter how they arrived on Whidbey Island, whether by road, water, or plane.
What a special tribute to the community.
Timothy says prints of the mural will be available soon. If you would like to see more of Timothy’s work, stop by our Oak Harbor Windermere office and peruse his artwork on display. You can also find his work online here.
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Written by Don Jaques November 29, 2017
Today I attended the annual “State of the Base” meeting with the North Puget Sound Area Realtors. Captain Geoff Moore, Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), gave a 20 minute presentation that included some interesting facts and figures affecting life and the real estate market in the North Whidbey region.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Update
For the last few years the Navy has been studying the environmental impact of increasing the amount of jets (most importantly the “Growler” jets) based at NASWI. This lengthy report was supposed to be finalized this fall, but some important technological changes have caused a delay in the final report, which is now expected in the fall of 2018.
What is this important technological change? Please forgive my lack of technical knowledge (I was scribbling notes as fast as I could at the meeting!) A new way of training jet pilots in their carrier landings through a simulator has shown to be very effective, and the Navy is fast-tracking it’s deployment as a training method. The advantage of this is it reduces the amount of actual “touch and go’s” that pilots need to take the noisy Growlers through.
Here are some numbers. Currently NASWI runs approximately 24,000 touch and go repetitions each year, split between the Outlying Field (OLF) in Coupeville, and the main runways at Ault Field in Oak Harbor. The worst case scenario for the amount of these repetitions with the coming of additional Growlers to NASWI in the preliminary version of the EIS was approximately 42,000 – almost a 100% increase. Captain Moore stated that with the new technology those numbers would be reduced to around 32,000. This is still a 33% increase in noise generating flights, but not nearly the increase originally projected.
TAKEAWAY: At this point there is no way to know what percentage of these touch and go trainings will happen in Coupeville, and how many will be in Oak Harbor. What is known is that the normal flight pattern is not expected to change from it’s current pattern. This means that people living in the noise zones will most likely experience an increase in the amount of time each year they experience “the sound of freedom”. Those who only occasionally experience noise from the jets will likely not notice a huge difference. (Request a noise zone map.)
The Navy and the Housing Shortage
Commander Moore showed graphs which demonstrated that we are currently at the top of the growth curve for personnel on the base (both military and civilian). Although there are still 3 squadrons slated to be transferred to NASWI in the next couple years, other changes in base operations will result in a net zero increase from the current amount of people coming in and out of the gates each day.
The Navy’s internal studies of housing within a 60 minute commute shows that there are adequate options for their personnel. Although housing is tight in Oak Harbor close to the base, their studies show there is sufficient housing within that 60-minute radius (which includes all of Whidbey Island, Fidalgo Island, and along the Hwy 20 corridor out to Sedro Woolley). For this reason, the Navy is not planning on constructing any new housing on or near NASWI in the near future.
TAKEAWAY: If these projected numbers are accurate, then the shortage of available, affordable housing now happening in North Whidbey and the surrounding regions will likely continue, but not get increasingly worse in the coming years. The Sellers’ market we have experienced the past few years is not likely to change in the near future.
Water Quality Around The Runways
In the last year contamination in underground water near Navy runways around the country has been linked to the use of a certain chemical used in putting out fires, and in training for putting out fires. This prompted testing of wells within a reasonable radius of both Ault Field and the Outlying Field. Captain Moore said that to date just over 200 homeowners have responded to the Navy’s offer to test their well. Of these, 10 wells were found to be above the EPA’s safety level for that chemical. Those homeowners have been supplied bottled water and the investigation into the severity of the problem and possible solutions is still underway.
TAKEAWAY: Anyone living with one mile of either Ault Field’s runways or the Outlying Field is urged to have their well tested. Also, anyone purchasing a home within these areas should require the disclosure of results from this testing before going through with a purchase.
Regardless of any individual’s feelings about living with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island nearby, life on North/Central Whidbey Island as well as Fidalgo Island involves enjoying the benefits and mitigating the negative aspects of the Navy base’s presence and “the Sound of Freedom”. Having lived on North Whidbey since 2002 I am available to answer your questions about life here including the pros and the cons. (I think the pros far outweigh the cons!)
Find more articles by Don Jaques by clicking here.