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Treasure Valley Fire crews prepare for growth, longer fire season

"What used to be a season has now become a year-long event," said Boise Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer.

BOISE, Idaho — As fire officials warn fire season may have become a thing of the past and turned into more of a year-long event, agencies in the Treasure Valley prepare for the increase in demand. Departments in the Boise and Eagle jurisdictions plan for an increase in staffing, equipment, and stations to help with faster and more efficient responses.

"We're ramping up probably earlier than we ever have and we expect the season to last a lot longer than it normally does," said Eagle Fire District Chief Tyler Lewis.

Last October, the Goose Fire started in the foothills during a time that Lewis and other fire officials deem as "the end of fire season." This year, areas around the United States, like Boulder, CO, are seeing an earlier fire season than normal.

"You would think Boulder should be full of snow," said Boise Fire Department Chief Mark Niemeyer. "If you look at our foothills right now you can still see a little bit of snow but that grass right now can burn just like it did in Boulder."

"What used to be a season has now become a year-long event," Niemeyer said.

Preparing for the longer, possible year-round fire season has crews training. Chief Lewis said his crews are going through the Red Card recertifications, which are tests and pieces of training that qualify someone for wildland fire operations. He added that these practices also cover command and control of managing fires if another started in the foothills.

"We're trying to get a message out to the public that we're expecting an above-average fire season," Lewis said. 

When it comes to the Goose Fire, Boise Fire Chief Niemeyer said it took crews from all neighboring agencies to help control and put the fire out. He said since last October, different fire agencies around the Treasure Valley have been able to strengthen their relationships to help work more efficiently in the future. He also said they've changed their dispatch protocols so they're able to send a bigger response if a situation were to occur later in the fire season.

"We essentially now have a year-long strengthening of our protocols when it comes to dispatch and responses," Niemeyer said.

But it is not just a longer, year-round fire season crews are preparing for, it's also a growing Idaho.

"The growth in the foothills that we're seeing and just everywhere in the area it's always a demand on resources," Lewis said. "If a unit is up fighting a grassfire up in the foothills, they're not down in the city for a medical call."

Lewis said the Eagle Fire is continuing to add more resources, like utilizing a heavy equipment dozer and putting in fire brakes around developments like Avimor.

"We know our resources are going to be stretched as we get more and more people up in those areas," Lewis said.

Eagle Fire will also begin contracting with North Ada County Fire and Rescue (NACFR) to staff the Hidden Springs fire station year-round on June 15. The facility has not been regularly serviced for more than 20 years.

"It's not just for wildland season. We are excited to be putting that station in service for both EMS and fire, year-round," Lewis said.

Three firefighters will be staffed 24/7 at the station who will be equipped with a fire engine, a brush truck, and a tactical vehicle. Lewis said the cost to maintain personnel at the Hidden Springs facility will be $1 million a year, with costs for equipment around $100-200k.

"It's been a long project up in that area and we've seen that growth, so we're excited to provide that service up there," Lewis said.

The Boise Fire Department is also working to expand its reach by constructing a new fire station in the northwest corner of the city on Bogart Ln. and State St. Boise City Council approved to purchase of land for Fire Station 13, valued at $1.1 million.

For decades, people who live in the area have called on mayors and city council members to build a fire station closer to their homes.

"It will have a wildfire response out at that new station so it will have a fire engine to respond to house fires and medical emergencies. It will also have a wildfire apparatus at the station that will respond up to the foothills," Niemeyer said. 

Construction is planned to start in 2024, according to Niemeyer.

"It is right around the corner that we're going to get another station into that area to have a better response into the foothills," said Niemeyer. He added the location will provide more effective coverage to that area of town and work with other neighboring fire agencies.

While those two projects are at the top of both fire agency leaders' minds at the moment, they've still got their eye on the future and more expansion. 

Chief Lewis said Eagle Fire District is also looking at the northwest area of their jurisdiction (Avimor Developments) and possible reconfiguration of services at Fire Station 2 on Floating Feather Rd. 

While in Boise, Cheif Niemeyer said the department is watching expansion south of I-84 and how they could better serve that area.

"We're going to have to have more fire stations, that's certainly in the plan and it's conversations we've been having, conversations with the Mayor and City Council about long-term where we'll add new services," Niemeyer said.

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