Plans are in motion for the Duluth Fire Department (DFD) to choose a location for a new station on Woodland between Snively Road and St. Marie Street. According to Fire Chief John Strongitharm, factors from the community and the fire department both affect the choice in location.
“It is still early in the process, but we’re actively out, looking for properties to see what makes most sense for the community,” Strongitharm said. “We want the community satisfied and happy as well as the department.”
The fire department recently met with community members to introduce ideas and get feedback on their thoughts. Woodland neighbor, Bob Knighton, said he isn’t so sure about the location.
“Sirens and loud diesel trucks are both necessary features of a fire station that are just incompatible with quiet residential living, especially late at night and in the early morning,” Knighton said.
Though no decisions have been made about the new location, the station must be located within the parameters of Snivley Road and St. Marie Street in order to keep response time speedy for both the Woodland and Arrowhead areas.
In addition to better response time, the construction of a new station will save money and help to create a more sustainable city by replacing two very old buildings with one new and efficient facility.
“Our goal is to try to find a way to be more efficient, provide more safety for the firefighters, and more safety for the community, but it has to make sense,” Strongitharm said. “We don’t want to force any businesses out, and we certainly don’t want to force any residents out if they don’t want to go.”
While no one will be forced out of the neighborhood, they will probably be getting a new neighbor. Almost all the other fire stations in Duluth have residential homes next to them because that’s who they are responding to as neighborhood stations Strongitharm said.
Duluth City Council member Jennifer Julsrud has been working with Strongitharm, helping to make sure community members’ voices and opinions are heard.
“Response has been positive and negative,” Julsrud said. “Chief Strongitharm and I have both been talking individually to concerned community members, and after providing them with further information, most all of them felt confident that the right decision for the community will be made.”
Strongitharm said that it will not only take the open minds of community members, but also the open minds of the firefighters to come to a decision.
“Change within the department can be difficult for some, and we’ve seen more change in the fire department in the last year than the last 50 years combined," Strongitharm said.
Once a decision is made about the location for the consolidation of the UMD and Woodland stations, the old buildings will be sold, and the money will be put toward the new station. The current UMD fire station is located on university property, and according to Julsrud, the university is interested in buying the building after the consolidation.
According to Strongitharm, the Duluth Fire Department aims to keep the budget neutral and work to build a more sustainable department while still providing community members with the safety services they have come to expect.