Skamania County Fire District 3, the Underwood Volunteer Fire Department, has purchased property on Cook-Underwood Road in Underwood for the purpose of constructing a new firehall.
Plans call for a 7800-square-foot single story building that will house the department's vehicles, up to two full-time EMT personnel, an emergency command center and staging area for the volunteer fire crew.
In addition, the building will serve as a community meeting facility and emergency center in the event of a disaster.
Fire Commissioner John Hardham said, "Underwood Fire Department responds to an average of 30 to 35 calls per year, covering everything from house fires, wild fires, highway accidents and medical emergencies. As the population in the community increases and more houses are built, we see the potential for increased risk and we need to address it now."
The new building will be located on a five-acre plot at the intersection of Cook-Underwood Road and School House Road, directly across from the existing firehouse and Post Office in Underwood.
The current firehouse, originally a White Salmon schools bus barn remodeled by volunteers in 1974, is no longer adequate to serve the needs of the district. Only two of the six trucks operated by the department can be housed in the building, and access to emergency gear is severely hampered by lack of space.
Architectural renderings have been completed for the new building and many residents of the Underwood community were able to review them at a Community Council picnic held last September.
Ground breaking is slated to start later this spring, and begins with construction of access roads onto the property and excavation for the building site.
Construction of the building is dependent on the ability of the fire department to raise funds from the Underwood community.
The fire department is considering placing a levy "Lit-Lift" on the ballot this fall while pursuing grants and loans from various government agencies.
Chief Eric Zeigler is confident the community will recognize the need for new emergency facilities.
"A new firehall will allow us to decrease our emergency response times, upgrade and improve our ability to handle all types of emergency situations, and give the community a safe haven if we have a real disaster," he said.
Underwood Fire District 3 currently has the lowest tax-levy rate of all Skamania County fire districts.
Skamania County resident Anita Gahimer-Crow has been instrumental in obtaining grants for the fire department.
In 2004, a grant for $60,000 from the US Department of the Interior US Fish and Wildlife Service was used for on-the-ground fuels reduction work conducted at 46 high-risk sites throughout the Underwood Community. Significant in-kind hours came from Fire Commissioner personal time and local citizens working on the project.
This grant was a follow-up to a 2002 grant that surveyed the community and identified the high risk sites.
A push to upgrade firefighter gear resulted in one grant awarded in 2005: a State of Washington Department of Natural Resources 50 percent matching Volunteer Fire Fighter Assistance Grant for $1,718 that enabled the department to purchase ten "firefighter down" recognition devices and fire fighting hose nozzles.
A second matching grant from Dept. of Natural Resources awarded in 2006 will allow the fire department to obtain ten full sets of wildland firefighting protective gear.