There have been times when firefighters working at Kirkland's Fire Station 21 could see smoke from structure fires, but could do nothing to put out the flames, said Fire Chief...

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There have been times when firefighters working at Kirkland’s Fire Station 21 could see smoke from structure fires, but could do nothing to put out the flames, said Fire Chief Jeff Blake.

Since the station at 9816 Forbes Creek Drive opened in 1997, it has been staffed round-the-clock by two firefighters, enough to respond only to medical-aid calls. A crew of at least three is needed to respond to fires, Blake said.

On Tuesday, the City Council will consider increasing funding for the Fire Department to hire three new firefighters — one to fill each 24-hour shift at the Forbes Creek station.

The $513,790 for new firefighters is a part of Kirkland’s two-year budget, which the council is scheduled to approve the same night. The council has previously set aside money for a new fire engine for the station.

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“This is the one area in the city limits that has not had immediate fire response available from the nearest station,” Blake said. “We had one fire three months ago in a house just a few blocks away from the station. We ended up having a 7-½-minute response time, rather than a 2- to 2-½-minute response time if they had been able to respond.”

Blake said he wasn’t sure how many fires have occurred in the station’s area since it opened, but the need for more staffing is something that has long been pushed by the Fire Department.

It will cost $269,000 to hire, train and outfit three new firefighters with gear and equipment in 2005. That cost will go down to $244,790 in 2006 because the city will have paid for the firefighters’ initial training and equipment, Blake said.

If the council approves the additional funding, the new firefighters could be working at the station by July, Blake said.

The Fire District and the Fire Department are also looking at the possibility of closing Fire Station 24, on Finn Hill, and Fire Station 25, near Holmes Point, and opening one centrally located station, said Paul Neil, chairman of the Fire District’s Board of Commissioners.

“We’re looking at it because the number of calls on Finn Hill don’t justify two stations,” Neil said.

Those stations are in an unincorporated area under King County Fire District 41’s jurisdiction. The Fire District contracts fire and emergency-response services with the Kirkland Fire Department.

A more centrally located station could also help to improve response times in that area, Blake said.

The Fire District may consider asking voters to increase the annual fire levy to pay for constructing a new fire station on the May ballot, Neil said.

The Finn Hill station is staffed part of the time with reserve firefighters. If the two stations were consolidated, it would be staffed round-the-clock by professional firefighters, Neil said.

Last year, the city and Fire District commissioned a feasibility study to explore consolidating the fire stations at a more centrally located site — particularly, at the nearby junior high school.

Lake Washington School District participated in the study, but the plans have progressed no further, Blake said. The Fire Department and Fire District may begin discussions with the school district in January, he said.

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com