Editorial: No new fire station is needed

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The fire station presently used by the Albert Lea Fire Department is sufficient for now.

A consultant earlier this month recommended to the Albert Lea City Council that a new fire station be built.

The job of a consultant oftentimes is to recommend what is best, rather than what is practical in tight budget times. Too often government leaders cite recommendations from consultants as marching orders or at the very least permission to move forward. Just because a consultant breaks the ice on a tough subject doesn’t mean officials can discount the will of the people or the budget situation.

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Considering the tight budget times, battles to maintain firefighter staffing levels and response times — the department can respond to the city core in four minutes and the entire city within eight minutes — there doesn’t seem to be a true need for a new station.

Sure, it would be nice to have space for smoke and fire training. Sure it would be nice to not back up the trucks when returning to the station. But these aspects are luxuries, not necessities.

Granted, there could be a need down the road, perhaps in five to 10 years and probably in collaboration with the Albert Lea Township Fire Department. One reason is the height of the door won’t accommodate the new ladder trucks. The door is 11.5 feet, and the new ladder trucks are 12.2 feet. When the aging ladder truck needs replacing, there won’t be a place to put it.

The smell of diesel smoke in City Hall, the east end of which is the fire station, is also a concern. The trucks idle outside during daily maintenance checks, but with a 40-foot truck on a 100-foot ramp, some smoke is bound to reach the building, impacting the workers inside. Still, the city should seek federal grants available to remedy the problem. This can’t be the only city with this problem.

But all things being equal, now is not a time for getting a new fire station. Thanks to the consultant for the evaluation, but the recommendation for a new station can be left safely on a shelf in City Hall to collect dust until better economic times come around.