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Change in store for Woodland fire hall

The Duluth City Council is expected to sign off Monday night on a $40,000 study of the Woodland fire hall. If a proposed resolution is approved, TKDA will be hired to assess the condition of Fire Hall No. 11 and evaluate the pros and cons of addi...

t031017 --- Clint Austin --- 031317.N.DNT.FIREHALL.C01 --- Duluth Fire Hall No. 11 at 3501 Woodland Avenue. The Duluth City Council will be asked Monday to approve $40,000 to assess the current fire hall and weigh the options for the facility. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Duluth Fire Hall No. 11 at 3501 Woodland Avenue. The Duluth City Council will be asked Monday to approve $40,000 to assess the current fire hall and weigh the options for the facility. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

The Duluth City Council is expected to sign off Monday night on a $40,000 study of the Woodland fire hall.

If a proposed resolution is approved, TKDA will be hired to assess the condition of Fire Hall No. 11 and evaluate the pros and cons of adding onto the existing station versus building a new structure. The existing hall first opened in 1922.

Among the options that will be considered is the possibility of replacing the hall with a new building designed to operate in a self-sufficient manner, with no need for outside energy.

"I would like to look at trying to have a fire station that is a near-zero-net-draw for energy and that also would be able to accommodate more firefighters," said Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards.

"That's the last company in the city where we have only two firefighters on duty, and it's not a safe situation for our firefighters. Safer staffing is four per company. We're trying to get to at least three and maybe look at some more down the road," he said.

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A full complement of four firefighters on a rig is required to be on the scene before a crew can commence an internal attack on a structure fire, so Station No. 11 typically relies on support from Station No. 4, located on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, when responding to fire calls.

The Woodland station is the smallest fire hall in the city. Only two other halls - one in Lakeside and another in Gary-New Duluth - are staffed with fewer than four firefighters.

"Even if we had more firefighters to put there, we wouldn't have enough space. The other thing is that building needs a lot of repair, so much so the study will tell us if it makes sense to build a new building," Edwards said.

There is perhaps no stronger proponent for conducting the study than 1st District City Councilor Gary Anderson, who represents Duluth's eastern neighborhoods including Woodland.

"I'm excited that this first step hopefully will be approved Monday night," he said. "This is a really important public safety element for the Woodland neighborhood and the surrounding community. We need to make sure that we have the proper facilities and that they're up to date, because we want to make sure that our firefighters are safe, and that they are able to provide good service to the community."

Eventually, Edwards aims to have four firefighters at each fire hall.

"That will always be the goal of our fire department. How long it will take to reach that, we're not sure," he said.

A few years back, the city considered consolidating the operations of the UMD and Woodland fire halls into a single new facility, but Edwards said he believes it makes better sense to retain two stations in light of continued development and more likely to come.

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"Our call volume increases every year, so we need to plan for what this fire department is going to look like 5 and 20 and 50 years down the road," he said.

By that measure, Edwards said the Woodland station comes up short.

"The building they're in right now just is not adequate," he said.

With plans in the works to rebuild the Woodland Avenue and Calvary Road intersection, and the prospective reuse of the Cobb School property, now home to Woodland Hills Academy, Anderson said: "The upper Woodland business district is really poised for some new and good energy. And I think that having a plan in place for an up-to-date and safe fire station there is going to be beneficial for the whole neighborhood."

Edwards noted that modern fire halls can reduce the risk of firefighters being exposed to carcinogens by making sure living quarters are properly isolated from fire gear storage areas, that appropriate exhaust-handling systems are in place and by using non-porous materials that can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

"We should always be mindful of what the best practices are and be aiming for them," Anderson said.

Related Topics: WOODLANDFIRES
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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