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Making things SAFER

Grant allows CES to hire additional personnel

Posted: October 17, 2011 - 7:00am  |  Updated: October 17, 2011 - 7:24am
Photo by Jerzy Shedlock
Central Emergency Service’s Shawn Killian checks the equipment on Engine 5 at the Funny River station. A grant will help add personnel to the Funny River station, which currently is manned by a single firefighter.

At Milepost 17 of Funny River Road sits Central Emergency Services’ Station 5. Emergency medical technician Sam Evanoff operates the station and responds to calls in the area. He is the only employee at the station.

Evanoff works at the station for a month before switching locations with another CES employee. On Oct. 21, however, Station 5 will operate with two emergency responders.

CES has five new recruits in training for placement around the Kenai Peninsula, three of which are funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant via the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response, or “SAFER,” Grant was awarded to the Kenai Peninsula Borough on behalf of CES on March 11. The grant provides $423,742 for hiring new personnel.
It will pay for the salary and benefits of the three recruits for two years. A stipulation of the grant is CES must pay the expenses for a third year.

“(FEMA) is making a two year commitment, and we have to guarantee a commitment for the third year,” CES Chief Chris Mokracek said. “And we’ve done what we can from the management side to retain those employees.”

Hires paid for with the grant money cannot be fired or laid off during the three-year period. The employee with the lowest seniority will be let go before the grant hires, and if one of those hires is let go before the period ends CES may need to pay back some of the money to FEMA, Fire Marshal Gary Hale said.

The goal of SAFER is to enhance local fire departments’ abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards established by the National Fire Protection Association.

Hiring is the grant’s focus at CES. Additional staff allows the department to place two emergency responders — who will be on call 24 hours a day — at the Funny River station.

“In the event of a medical emergency or a fire, for safety reasons, for the public and for the fire fighter we find it beneficial to have a minimum of two employees at that station augmented by our on-calls or volunteer fire fighters,” Mokracek said. “We only really have one seasonal on-call out in the Funny River area, so it was imperative for us from a risk management point-of-view to have two out at that station.”
Caution is practiced at the one-man station. If Evanoff has an accident there would be no one around help him, so he keeps his cell phone close at all times.

There was an incident at the station three years ago where an employee slipped and fell, breaking both arms. Since the accident, CES officials have been concerned about employees suffering injuries and not being able to call for help. The two-employee minimum will alleviate this concern.

The biggest advantage the additional responder will provide is help on runs. Evanoff no longer has to wait for backup.

“Two people are better than one,” he said. “It saves the other stations from coming out here to help us, because as an individual I can help the patient, but I can’t transport the patient. I need to wait for somebody else to come out. It would cut down our response time and getting the patients into Soldotna.”

Station 5 responds from Mile 9.5 Funny River Road to its end at Mile 18 and all side roads.

Working alone Evanoff can only fight fires from an exterior standpoint. For safety reasons, he cannot enter the interior of a building, as someone is needed to operate the water pump. 
In the event of a medical emergency, Evanoff can begin patient assessment and perform individual medical procedures while waiting for backup.

Typically, a station operates with two personnel. The Soldotna headquarters operates with a minimum of three personnel.

As a whole for the borough, FY2012 service area budgets are comparable to FY2011. The emergency services area CES falls under has increased by 5.7 percent, but its total budget did not increase.
Acquiring proper funding has long been a concern for CES. For example, a major issue highlighted in the FY2012 budget report is the cost of providing workers compensation coverage for the Borough’s emergency responders. Due to changes in regulations from the state regarding presumptive disability, some municipalities are no longer able to buy excess insurance. If the trend continues, the cost of insuring emergency responders could increase 200 to 500 percent, according to the budget report.

“It’s money that’s preventing us from hiring additional personnel,” Hale said.

Since 2005, SAFER has awarded 1,137 grants totaling more than $500 million to fire departments across the country to help to increase staffing of frontline firefighters.
Anchorage, Fairbanks and Seward were also awarded SAFER grants in the last year.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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