Improvements needed include gender neutral facilities, safety upgrades and new locations

Gresham's Fire Stations are in need of updates to bring them into the 21st century and deal with the dramatic increase in calls for service since the facilities were constructed in the 1980s.

"One of the most challenging issues facing our department is the state of our fire stations," Chief Mitch Snyder said. "We generally put our money and resources into staffing and response times."

That was the main topic of discussion during a Gresham City Council meeting Tuesday morning, Dec. 1. Gresham Fire & Emergency Services shared the needed improvements at Gresham's existing four stations, as well as potential expansions in the future.

No decisions were made during the meeting, as a plan and cost analysis will be presented next year.

"I am very proud of our fire department — your response times are still amazing even though we haven't built a new facility since the 1980s," Councilor Jerry Hinton said.

The city operates four stations, and last year's third-party inspection revealed updates that would allow the department to provide safe and proper service. Two issues required immediate attention — Station 73 and 74 had unacceptable levels of lead in drinking water, while Station 74's air quality showed an unhealthy level of radon in the building. According to the EPA, radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer.

The other improvements needed are cancer prevention measures, workplace safety and more gender-neutral facilities.

The stations have antiquated air handling systems and limited ability to sanitize equipment, both of which can lead to serious long-term health issues. The stations are at maximum storage capacity, do not meet "essential structure" safety standards, and are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"When they were built, cost limited the ability to mitigate hazards and the footprints of the buildings are too small to make impactful improvements," Battalion Chief Josh Butler said.

The stations have shared locker rooms, group bathrooms and common shower rooms — all of which limit the comfort of female firefighters. Two recent hires have brought the total number of women firefighters to seven in Gresham, and those numbers could increase with better facilities.

"Our buildings still miss the mark when it comes to privacy," Butler said.

Some of the needed improvements could prove challenging to complete as the footprints of the stations are small enough that there is little room to expand. Increased population within Gresham is also exasperating the issue. Call volume has increased by 300% at most of the stations, leading to a strain on resources already stretched thin. If funding allowed, the department would love to construct new stations across the city to improve response times and better serve new neighborhoods in Gresham.

"There are stations in our service area that see heavy use," Butler said. "Going forward the ability to meet the changing needs of our citizens will need careful and deliberate planning."

While initially these changes were going to come through a three-year plan, city council voiced a desire to speed things up. Most likely a better idea of needed changes will go before council sometime next year.

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