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Fire association disbands, gives building to Vashon fire department

Vashon Firefighters’ Association will disband this year and give its association building to Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR).

Faced with years of declining participation, the organization that includes every active member in the Island fire department will hand over its assets, responsibilities and meeting place to the department it was created to support.

The simple structure on the south side of Bank Road was built in 1974 and was once a gathering place for the volunteer firefighters from Vashon and Maury’s separate fire departments — Burton, Dockton, Tahlequah, Vashon town and the north end, said Rex Stratton, Vashon Firefighters’ Association president.

But today, the building is rarely used, and is only occasionally rented out for private parties, rummage sales and other community events.

“It’s not like the old days when people would fight a fire and go back to the Firefighters’ Association building and have a few beers and talk about it,” said Stratton, a candidate for an open seat on the fire department’s commission.

The costs to upkeep the building, such as property taxes and utilities, are “so high that the revenues it brings in on rentals and so forth no longer cover its expenses,” Stratton said.

Fire Chief Hank Lipe said the building’s donation is a boon for the Island agency and will add to its contiguous campus of buildings and training areas on Bank Road.

The downtown fire station on Bank Road, Station 55, was built in 1992 across the street from the association building. The Penny Farcy Memorial Training Center is an updated 1948 structure next to the firefighters’ association building.

“We are excited about acquiring the building,” Lipe said of the designated Red Cross Emergency Shelter, which can help those in need of temporary housing during an emergency. “It’s part of the history of our service, and we’re always looking forward to ways to acquire an asset such as land or property for the future needs of the district.”

With the addition of a new fire station on Bank Road, the older building on the south side of the street was used less, Stratton said.

For a time, a large portion of the association building had been a garage that housed Island ambulances, Stratton said. But now, the garage has been closed in and serves only as the staging ground for small events.

And since Vashon Island Fire & Rescue became a “combination” department in 2001 — one that has both paid and volunteer firefighters — the firefighters’ union and volunteer focus groups have eclipsed the firefighters’ association, he noted.

The association “had a good life, and now it’s time for the fire department to pick up on all those needs that had been fulfilled by the firefighters’ association,” Stratton said.

Lipe said the fire department, which is more than 60 volunteers strong and employs 16 paid staff, is still deciding how the building will be used in the future.

Fire commissioners will likely hold a forum about the structure’s possible uses later this year, he said. The Island’s emergency operations center, for example, could move from its small room in Station 55 to the larger space across the street.

“It’s been fun, and this is going to be good for the community,” said Stratton, who has been a volunteer firefighter for a year.

“I think that its future use is going to serve a much higher purpose than its current and past use.”

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