Duluth could build new fire hall at Woodland and Snively

After 80 minutes of back-and-forth debate, Keith Hamre and John Strongitharm set the record straight: There will be a consolidation of the Woodland and University of Minnesota Duluth fire halls.

After 80 minutes of back-and-forth debate, Keith Hamre and John Strongitharm set the record straight: There will be a consolidation of the Woodland and University of Minnesota Duluth fire halls.

That fact, coming from Hamre, the city's director of planning and construction services, and Strongitharm, the fire chief, put talk at a public meeting into better focus Tuesday night.

The two men said the purpose of the meeting was to gather public comment on the idea of placing the new hall at Woodland Avenue and Snively Road, a controlled intersection in a residential area.

The dozen people at the meeting, who were joined by mostly silent members of the Duluth City Council and firefighters, questioned the logic of placing a new hall in a residential area and the loss of a station in the densely populated college area.

Joan Kwako said she lives next to people who have been contacted by the city about selling their homes to make room for the hall.


"I live next door. This is my home," she said. She urged planners to put the hall in a more commercial area.

For Strongitharm, the placement was all about balance in response times, a principle he used several times during the 90-minute meeting.

While some at the meeting wanted the station placed in the commercial area across from UMD or on campus on Woodland, Strongitharm said that wouldn't serve the residents in the upper Woodland area, which is losing the neighborhood station at Wabasha Street. In essence, he tried to center the hall in the area it serves while keeping it on major street arteries. The Snively location does that best, he said, with Woodland and Arrowhead Road nearby.

"It all had to do with the response times," Strongitharm told the audience at Congdon Park Elementary School.

Hamre warned that while the new hall idea is moving forward, the public has a voice. No concrete plan is yet in place.

"We're very early in the process," he said.

The change is being driven by a comprehensive study of Duluth's fire operations that was completed last year. A consultant recommended the city consider consolidating its Woodland station with its Lakeside fire hall, which recently was remodeled.

"It didn't make sense," Strongitharm said.


It was determined that combining the Woodland and UMD stations made better sense in the effort to consolidate staff and give each station in Duluth a four-person crew. The Woodland hall currently is staffed by two people and the UMD hall is staffed by three.

The Woodland zone will become one of the busiest in the city, the chief said Tuesday, with more than 2,000 calls a year, mostly medical calls. There were two fires in the Woodland area last year.

Strongitharm said one station can handle that volume. He would reconsider if calls got to the 3,000 mark. While the area would lose a fire rig with the loss of a hall, Strongitharm said the four-person crew will be more efficient and safer for firefighters. The new hall would also have a smaller truck for medical calls.

The current stations are due for significant upgrades and that also played a role, the chief said.

Residents were uneasy about the idea of losing the backup station, and Strongitharm admitted, "Some of our redundancy has gone away."

The fire department abandoned its Park Point fire hall last year as part of the consolidation plan.

Woodland would be covered much like the rest of the city, the chief said. Residents said Woodland, with its two colleges and burgeoning commercial districts, is a city to itself that needs more thorough coverage.

Residents said they wanted to scrutinize the estimates Strongitharm provided: $1 million in savings over 10 years from maintaining one less rig and station. The two current fire halls would be sold, with the Woodland station likely becoming a residence and UMD absorbing its station.


"We're having one fire hall," Hamre said, ending debate on the consolidation. "This meeting is about what's the best location for that fire hall."

Strongitharm said it was important to present the plan early to the public. He said there isn't a specific timeline and things could change depending on public sentiment. The next public meeting would probably be about a land purchase and design of the hall.

"Geography is driving it," Strongitharm said.

What To Read Next
Get Local