One of the most important items on the Sept. 19 primary election ballot is not for any particular candidate. Rather, it will be a measure calling for support of a new fire station in the community of Underwood.
Voters in the Underwood area of Skamania County are being asked to support a "permanent levy lid lift" to fund the construction and upkeep of a new fire station.
Voters should enthusiastically support this proposition.
Yes, it translates into a little more money in property taxes, which would go from about 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to $1 per $1,000 of assessed value. That is a small price to pay, however, for what the community would be gaining.
There is little that is more important than protection from fire, especially in a rural community, and the Underwood Fire District is overdue for an upgrade of its infrastructure.
The building that currently houses two of the fire department's trucks is cramped and clearly inadequate for a modern firefighting operation. Only two of the Underwood Fire Department's six firefighting trucks even fit in the current structure, and the space is so tight that the doors on those two trucks cannot be opened at the same time because they bump into each other. Also, the space alongside the trucks where firefighters get into their turnouts before tackling a fire call is severely confined.
No matter how you cut it, that's not a good situation. Anything that works to delay critical response times needs to be fixed, and a new fire hall would make a huge difference.
The existing structure -- which was used as a school bus barn before the Underwood Fire Department took it over -- is less than 1,000 square feet. The $640,000 facility that will be built if the levy is approved would offer 7,800 square feet. It would hold all of the department's rigs, provide a much more efficient and roomy staging area for the firefighters, and would house two Emergency Medical Services personnel.
Further, the building would serve as an emergency shelter for residents of the area in the event of a disaster. At other times, the building would serve as a community meeting center.
The fire department has already obtained the land where the new structure would go, buying a five-acre parcel in 2004 that is directly across from the current fire station.
The Underwood Fire District is comprised of a team of dedicated volunteer firefighters, who protect about 450 homes within the district and are on-call around the clock to protect some 12,800 acres, much of it forested. Providing this proven team with adequate, modern quarters would be an investment that would benefit the community and its residents for many years to come.
We strongly urge voters in the Underwood area to support this measure, and vote to approve a new fire station.