Seattle officials break ground for new firehouse, replacing old ‘Cancer House’
As far back as the 2000s firefighters assigned to Station 31 claimed the firehouse was making them sick
By David Kroman
The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — The City of Seattle broke ground Monday on a $54 million fire station in North Seattle, marking the beginning of the end of the decadeslong fight over the health of the firefighters working out of Station 31.
The new building on Northgate Way near Aurora Avenue will replace the former Station 31, a cramped facility that its residents suspected was giving them cancer. The building even had a nickname: “Cancer House.”
The suspicion dates back as far as the early 2000s when a Department of Health study found 119 firefighters at the station had come down with some form of cancer between 1975 and 2003. A fire captain once threatened to launch a sit-in outside of former Mayor Greg Nickels’ home until a new station was built.
Repeated studies failed to ever identify a specific culprit, save for small traces of a potentially harmful mold, and the city has never concluded the firefighters at Station 31 were more at risk for cancer than others. Firefighters in general have higher rates of cancer due to exposure to toxic burning materials and even exhaust from trucks idling inside.
Still, the firefighters of Station 31 continued to insist their home was particularly harmful and in 2019 it was abandoned on the approval of then-Mayor Jenny Durkan. That same year, Durkan announced plans to replace the station.
Situated in one of the busiest areas for emergency responders, the previous building was viewed as too small to handle the workload and its basement struggled with leaks. Fire crews responded to 11,600 incidents last year out of a temporary station.
“This district is one of the busier areas in the City, and it’s imperative our crews have a fire station to meet their growing operational needs,” Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said in a statement.
In celebrating Monday’s groundbreaking, city officials avoided mention of the cancer suspicions, focusing instead on its usefulness for operations.
When complete, the new station will be three stories and 22,000 square feet. It will have four bays for a fire engine, ladder truck, medic unit and aid unit, with additional space for a Health One SUV. Taken together, the belief is the new building will allow for more timely response.
The station is funded by limited tax general obligation (LTGO) bonds and will be completed in 2025.
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