District 7 in command center

New facility improving operations, consolidating resources

Kelly Sullivan

Every morning key staff gets together in Fire District 7’s new operations command center for a standup meeting.

The walls of the room are lined with large screens, one of which shows the location of emergency response units in real time, said public information officer Heather Chadwick. Another tracks how quickly firefighters are able to get ready and head out on a call — whether they’re within the 90-second mark strived for — and records what factors led to their success or slowed them down. A third displays that day’s staffing and if training or a community event is scheduled.

The daily gatherings would have been a logistical challenge about four months ago. Miles separated many of the employees. In August, the agency’s executive staff that includes the chief financial officer and human resources director, and the public information officer relocated to work under one roof, which neighbors Fire Station 31, Chadwick said.

Prior to the move everyone was spread out between Monroe and Clearview, the headquarters for what were formerly Fire District 3 and 7’s jurisdictions. In early November, a few months after unlocking the doors, the recently combined agency celebrated opening the new administration facility. The move represents another step in the unification of the two districts.

Fire District 7 Board of Commissioners vice chair Bill Synder made a few remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, attended by dozens of agency staff and community members. He said the merger was no easy achievement.

“In reality, to bring two separate districts together is almost impossible, but we did it,” he said.

Already, communication has improved and planning is more concise, Chadwick said, standing outside the two-story building; the bottom floor is leased out by Fire District 7 and rented by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Assistant Chief of Administration Jamie Silva led tours through the new space that morning. In the midst of the transition, while everyone organized and got comfortable, the New World Computer Aided Dispatch System went through a huge update.

Chadwick said it gave the agency a chance to see if the operations pod would function as intended. For about a day dispatching was carried out manually. While it was more hectic than using technology that streamlines the process, it worked very well and was a good first run, she said.

The hope is never to need to use that space for its purpose, but it is essential to have a backup plan if the systems crash, Chadwick said.

It is the first time all fire chiefs have had easy access to FirstWatch — software that records turn out and response. The program takes data and identifies patterns or trends. Silva explained it can help pinpoint factors that are within their control, such as the distance the break room is from the equipment bay, or beyond, such as traffic.

Over time that information can help with planning and potentially cut down on response times, Silva said. The 90 seconds aimed for is determined and based on studies that include fire science. A few seconds or minutes can literally mean the difference between life or death or whether a home is a total loss, he said.

Fire Chief Gary Meek said the plan to move into new offices was first proposed once the two districts began operating together, working under an interlocal agreement. The board approved the purchase of the site, which was owned by the bank, in 2016. The building came available at the right time and was the right price, he said.

Voters legally approved the merger in the 2016 August primary election, and the two agencies officially became one that October. Emergency responders now cover 98.5 square miles, providing services to 110,000 residents in Monroe, Maltby, Clearview, Mill Creek and other surrounding communities.

Fire District 7 was in the midst of another major project during the move. Its new station, which is expected to improve response time to Lost Lake and Echo Lake communities once open, has been under construction since early September. In about a year, three bays for housing firefighting and emergency response vehicles, office and training spaces, and dorms will take up 11,000 square feet of the 4.9-acre property.

Station 74 off Paradise Lake Road will be shut down once the work is complete. The building will then be repurposed for other uses such as training. Staff from that location will be moved over to the new station. The future facilities will be set up for one lieutenant and two firefighters to provide around-the-clock staffing.

Station 74 has been taking calls since 2012 for the communities previously covered by Station 75. Doors were closed at that site due to deep budget cuts during the Great Recession.

Chadwick said the agency wants to thank the public, which continues to support and trust that Fire District 7 remains “financially minded to provide the best service to them as possible.”



Photos by Kelly Sullivan: The walls of Snohomish County Fire District 7’s new operations command center in its new headquarters are lined with large screens that display important information for first responders.


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