House hunters
Fire Department presents options for new downtown station, asks public for input

House hunters

Durango Fire Administrative Battalion Chief Michael Krupa looks over plans for a new fire station at an open house on Tuesday. Options are to stay put and rebuild the existing facility; move to the Transit Center; or move to the empty D&SNG lot on College Drive./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Tracy Chamberlin - 06/15/2017

It needs to be just right – east of the Animas and close to downtown, but also in between Camino and Main. It has to be big enough to house the ladder truck, emergency vehicles, a mountain of equipment and the people at the heart of it all.

Location has always been key to finding the right home, especially for the Durango Fire Department.

“There’s not a lot of space (in downtown Durango), which is one reason we feel this is an important time to make this decision,” Scot Davis, public information officer for the Durango Fire Protection District, explained.

The department held an Open House on Tuesday evening, June 13, at Station #2, which sits between the Animas River and Camino del Rio next to the Power-house. The purpose was to present the public with the top three options for a new fire house and get feedback. The Durango City Council, fire chief and other community leaders were also present.

Davis said the evening wasn’t about trying to sell one particular option but an honest breakdown of the pros and cons for each one. 

Just hours after the firefighters put away the displays, brochures and questionnaires, they got another call. 

In the very early hours of Wednesday, the firefighters and emergency responders at Station #2 were called to a structure fire at the Tercero Townhomes on West 3rd Avenue, just south of the intersection at 22nd Street and  Montview Parkway.

Davis said they called on at least three other stations, utilizing a lot of resources to deal with the fire. The cause is unknown at this time. What is known is that one person has died, two were flown to Denver and one individual is being treated at Mercy Regional Medical Center.

Although the department has battled three major structure fires in just the past two weeks, those types of calls actually make up only about 7 percent of all calls.

In fact, almost 80 percent are medical. In the past 48 hours alone, Davis said they’ve been dispatched for incidents related to seizures, cardiac cases, traumas, convulsions, assaults, breathing concerns, psychiatric issues and more.

And, those numbers are only going up. Across the 325 square miles the department covers in Southwest Colorado, the number of emergency calls coming in increases each year by 5-7 percent.

“If it’s ‘I’m hurt’ or ‘Something’s going bad,’ you’re going to get the Fire Department,” Davis explained.

Last year, Station #2 responded to more than 2,200 calls – which accounts for almost half of all the calls recorded from all 16 of the area’s stations – and is on pace this year to top those numbers.

“There are days when everyone is out (on a call),” he added.

So, it’s not about what the Fire Department wants, Davis said, it’s about what Durango needs. The city is growing, and the department needs the facilities to keep up with demand – now and in the future.

With that in mind, the department and city officials have been house hunting for some time.

And their list of needs is really about one thing: location, location, location.

Davis said they can’t afford to be crossing the river with every call, so anything west of the Animas River is out. Nor can they afford to cross the city’s two main thoroughfares – Camino del Rio and Main Avenue.

Having to traverse both roadways during an emergency would only add to the challenge of getting to the call as quickly and safe as possible. “We need to be between Camino and Main,” he explained.

This means only a small chunk of Durango’s downtown area is even workable. With open space in the downtown area dwindling, Davis said now is the time to take the plunge.

After looking at needs and options, the department has narrowed it down to three possibilities – all of which are on land owned by the city. They can stay at their current location on the riverfront or build a new building at either the Transit Center or train station parking lots.

The first option is to stay put. However, the station next to the Animas River was never intended to be a long-term solution. It was originally put together as a temporary location until a permanent one could be found – that was in 1983. Like each of the three options, staying put has its challenges. First, the current facility needs to be torn down and rebuilt, which means the department would have to find another temporary spot to use during construction, which is likely to last about a year and a half.

This likely means also means the department would need to cannibalize city offices nearby at River City Hall – which houses the Community Development Department. The costs of moving are unknown, although it’s likely to be at least $2 million.

What also isn’t known about the cost is the possibility of the current fire house containing asbestos or the land having uranium tailings, remnants of its history as a power plant. Costs of those unknowns could quickly pile up.

The second option would be to build a new station in the Transit Center parking lot. One of the challenges, of course, is the loss of downtown parking spots – 158 to be exact. The lot has also been considered a possible location for a downtown parking garage, so building a new station would also take that possibility off the table.

With parking already at a premium, it’s one of the cons under consideration.

Another con to the Transit Center location is that the department would need to downsize in order to make it work. The final option – building a new facility in the train station parking lot on the corner of College Drive and Camino del Rio – is the one with the least number of cons. Davis said this spot, like the Transit Center option, would mean losing some parking. The owners of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, however, have other downtown properties and, at this point, are calling it a wash as far as lost parking spots.

The top obstacles would be in the surrounding area. The  Highway 160/550 intersection and the “Welcome to Durango” sign would need to be reconfigured by the Colorado Department of Transportation in order to accommodate a safe entry and exit into the station. It could also mean more traffic in an already congested area.

No matter which spot is chosen, Davis said the cost of construction is likely to be around $9 million – most of which the department already has in its savings account.

The Fire Department has $7.8 million to use toward construction, so funding plans don’t currently include coming to voters with a tax increase.

Davis said the time to act is now, with an increasing number of calls, challenges to the department’s 34-year-old location and downtown space filling up fast.

“It’s time to create a fire station that’s going to serve Durango now and in the future,” he said. 

House hunters

Fire Marshal Karola Hanks, center, talks to attendees at Tuesday's open house. The Fire Department has outgrown its current space, which was intended as a "temporary" move in 1983./Photo by Jennaye Derge