Gearhart mayor Paulina Cockrum asks, “A new fire station: If not now, when?”
Let’s answer: We will build a new fire station when the taxpayers who fund this project know their money will be well spent, and not wasted on something that this community does not want, need, or understand.
The community likely does want and need a new fire station, as the old one, veteran of a few minor earthquakes, will not withstand a major one. But the community does not want or need an “emergency response and resiliency station” costing citizens upwards of $13 million over the next 20 years, twice the size of the current emergency stations, and the biggest, most opulent and expensive such station per capita in all of Clatsop County.
Among the expanded functions noted on the city website are dormitory rooms and increased space for a regional training program for cadets and interns pursuing a “fire-fighting profession,” new training and equipment for “water rescues” as one example, and space and facilities for “emergency headquarters” including a separate helipad and space for medical/food/water and assembly before and after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.
Gearhart residents will support a modest and sensible project proportionate to their needs, that plans for neighbors such as Seaside who are ready and willing to assist, and recognizes that the county already boasts a regional emergency training and response headquarters at Camp Rilea, college certifications for a “fire-fighting profession,” and expert water rescue capability by the U.S. Coast Guard. City hall seems to have forgotten that the last time a Gearhart fire fighter attempted a water rescue, the outcome was the tragic death of hero Robert Chisholm and a firm resolution by surviving members of Gearhart Volunteer Fire Department that water rescues and their legal liability are the sole responsibility of the Coast Guard.
Gearhart is a small community; some years there are no fires, and most years there are scarce emergencies within city limits needing anything more than an ambulance ride to Seaside. It is hard to understand how city hall came to promote this massive project as necessary for this small community, with many retirees living on small fixed incomes who are already struggling to pay for the water treatment facility and the new school, and who will next be saddled with yet another large project, the construction of a new city hall, and with long-needed infrastructure repairs that have been deferred for over a decade to focus on this new station project.
Moreover, the proposed Highlands Station location was already soundly rejected five years ago. The reasons this location was rejected by the citizen firehouse committee, Mayor Matt Brown, city manager, and city councilors, including Paulina Cockrum, are still displayed on the city website: “A location on Del Rey Beach Access Road north of Gearhart was not selected because of medical and fire response times, inaccessibility during a tsunami, and proximity to our satellite Hertig Station.”
This proposed location is outside the current city limits of Gearhart. It is over 2 miles via U.S. Highway 101 to many homes within Gearhart, farther than allowed by many home insurance policies, and as far from southern Gearhart as the Seaside Fire Station. Response times will not be much better than the city’s Hertig Fire Station, which lies directly on the highway and is ready now to serve the Highlands. Mayor Cockrum is concerned that a location in central Gearhart will not be useful after a large tsunami, but fails to note that the Highlands location will not fare any better: it has no chance of assisting anybody needing post-tsunami rescue in central Gearhart. And, at the far northern city boundary east of the creek, it is perhaps the most inconvenient location possible for any western assembly function.
Indeed, Cockrum already voiced these criticisms years ago to promote other locations as safer options. Why has she forgotten them now?
And finally, geotechnical consultants recently determined that a “shallow slope failure” in the dune might occur during an earthquake, making the $13 million guess highly speculative.
If Mayor Cockrum wants to build a new station, then she needs to honestly acknowledge these facts, and work hard to engage the public and independent experts, as partners in a unified discussion of them, within a transparent democratic process.
When and if she does, then the citizens of Gearhart will be ready and willing to build a new fire station.
Jack Zimmerman is a Gearhart resident.