"Dow knows island roadsFire crews can find your house, even if out-of-town guests can't."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:43 PM
"It's like being in high school again - the teacher putting you in your place.An effort to map the island has made Bainbridge High School teacher and fire volunteer Jim Dow the official place namer and numberer for Bainbridge.It began as an issue for the fire department because of a large percentage of people who had houses and driveways that were unmarked, Dow said.Two incidents of delayed location a decade ago prompted Dow to act. In one, a man on Sunrise Drive had a heart attack, and medics couldn't find the address. The second incident was a fatal fire in the Arrow Point area.We could see the house burning through the trees, but there were three unmarked driveways off the main road, and we couldn't tell which one went to the house, Dow said. The equipment had to wait while we checked each of them.I doubt it would have made any difference in terms of the fatality, but it was a real concern.So nearly a decade ago, Dow undertook a project to go down every road, lane and driveway on the island to map every house. He then produced a computer database to guide the fire and police departments.While the crews are rolling, the dispatcher can consult Dow's database for pinpoint directions - third house on the left down the driveway, for example.If we didn't have that, I can't imagine what our response times would be, said Ken Guy, fire department executive director.Dow then produced an island street list, which the city planning department now uses as its authoritative source.For example, when trying to determine whether the road called Wyatt is a street or an avenue, as the street signs say, or a way, which is the predominant local usage, the city consults Dow's guide. It says Wyatt Way.I used old maps and common usage, and the street signs, Dow said.When new homes or subdivisions are built, the owner files a request with the city for street names and addresses.The developer is generally allowed to select street names, within certain broad parameters.We want the names to have something to do with this area or with the people, said Nancy Hanson, the city planner who supervised that function for many years. Naming streets after their kids is okay.When address requests are made, the city consults either the Winslow or the county grids to determine the approximate numbers. Then it refers requests to Dow. He and postal worker Gary Nolta do an on-site inspection, and assign the house numbers.Dow's past mapping work and his systematic approach to assigning addresses make the island's patchwork tolerable, Guy said.We can live with the quirks that have already happened as long as it doesn't get worse in new areas, he said.But Guy worries about the degree to which emergency-service delivery depends on people like Dow, who have taken the time and trouble to virtually memorize the island's addresses.It takes time for new people to learn a system that doesn't have a lot of logic to it, he said. "