You wouldn't know it by looking at it, but the grass that's been planted on the new helicopter launch area adjacent to King County Fire District No. 44's new station 96 on S.E. 400th Street is special.
"It's kinda nerdy," admits Tim Perciful, the district's public information officer as he explains that the grass will not grow more than a few inches so as not to hinder emergency crews and medics when transporting patients by helicopter.
That 'nerdy' attention to detail has ensured that the district's newest station is not only eye-catching in its exterior decor but has all the facilities and attractions that a modern fire station should have, according to Fire Chief Greg Smith.
There is a spacious communal area complete with comfy-looking couches and recliners, a flatscreen television and a state-of-the-art kitchen space. The television -- with cable -- was a conscious decision, said Smith, as it is meant to encourage the district's roughly 125 volunteer firefighters to hang out there on their free time but potentially be available for calls when necessary.
The station is constantly staffed with a minimum of two firefighters -- career and volunteer -- but there are occasions where there are larger groups there because it's a social area to congregate as well, he said.
The building provides plentiful office and sleeping space and its engine and truck bay are designed with top-level auto-controlled windows to help with ventilation when the vehicles are running. Rooms for storage of firefighting equipment and emergency medical equipment border the bay, as does a decontamination area that includes a washer to clean gear and clothing that's been contaminated with biohazardous material. And there's a second-story mezzanine area dedicated for storage.
It even features a public use room that can be separately locked so as not to affect the station's daily operations when a group is using the 177-maximum capacity space.
The building is elevated from flood concerns and sits on several feet of a special material to help it be more earthquake-proof, Smith said.
Respect for the Muckleshoot Tribe
On the outside the bright red and yellow with dark trim on the building's exterior was a conscious choice in deference to the Muckleshoot Tribe which benefits from the services provided by the district while providing the land that the new station sits on, said Smith.
In the planning stages for the building, he said, architects were encouraged to explore the Muckleshoot Reservation for inspiration on how the exterior should look. The Muckleshoot is currently leasing the land to the fire district for the next 60 years, Smith said.
The district has steadily built a very engaged and cooperative relationship with the Tribe, and it was a point of pride for Smith. District staff are very hospitable to traditions and beliefs held by the Muckleshoot Tribe when, for instance, it came to how to handle the deceased, he said.
And the Tribe has reciprocated the appreciation, conducting an official blessing ceremony for the station when it first went into operation in December of last year, Smith said.
Location Close for Enumclaw Plateau Residents
While covers the city of Enumclaw and immediately surrounding areas, there are residents in District No. 44 -- particularly just north of District No. 28's borders but south of S.E. Green Valley Road that identify themselves as Enumclaw, said Smith.
District No. 44 serves a 70-square mile section of unincorporated and southeast King County that includes part of the Enumclaw plateau and the city of Black Diamond.
Just last Saturday, an overnight fatal motor vehicle accident at the intersection of S.E. 400th Street at 212th Way S.E. was called in to Enumclaw, said Perciful, and District No. 44 crews provided mutual aid.
Given the location of the accident, which was right on the border between the two districts, station 96 was just a few minutes away, Smith said. The two districts regularly work together for mutual aid calls, he said.
A 12-year Process
The new station replaces the old station 96 which was located on S.E. 384th Street and had at one point been a one-room school house in the 1960s that the Auburn School District sold to the fire district for $1, Smith said.
Not only was space and maintenance of the old building a problem, but at one point it was shut down for six months due to mold, he said. The need for a new building was identified in 2000.
In 2008, district voters passed a $7.5 million bond measure which would in part fund the construction of the new building. About $3 million went to the new station while the rest went to purchase an assortment of much-needed vehicles, equipment and gear, Smith said.
Before that, it had been 30 years since the district went to voters with a bond issue or a levy lid lift, he said.
Construction began in the summer of 2010 and an assortment of in-progress photos can be viewed at the district website.
"It's definitely the nicest station we've had," said Smith.