Snowfall creates headaches for rural fire fighters

A fire hydrant pokes out of the snow Tuesday afternoon alongside Birch Drive in Kenai. Local firefighters say they appreciate the public’s help keeping the hydrants accessible.

Snowfall this winter has provided challenges for the central Kenai Peninsula's emergency responders. Snow accumulation around fire hydrants is a major concern for cities, like Kenai and Soldotna, while rural communities address their own concerns.


"We have issues with keeping the roadways clear," said James Baisden, Nikiski fire department chief. "There are access problems -- getting our big equipment into rural residential areas."

Fire departments around the state are requesting Alaskans help to keep fire hydrants clear and accessible. Smaller communities require aid with managing the near record-setting snowfall as well, Baisden said.

As of Friday, the total snowfall in Anchorage came to 129.4 inches for the season. The previous record of 132.6 inches was set in the winter of 1954-55, according to the National Weather Service. No agency tracks yearly snowfall on the central Peninsula.

Water is the main tool firefighters use to extinguish fires. Delay in locating and connecting to water sources hampers fire suppression and increases possible loss of life, risk of injury and property damage, according to an Alaska Division of Fire and Life Safety press release.

Central Emergency Services in Soldotna and the Kenai Fire Department are advertising "Adopt a Fire Hydrant" programs. It is not necessary for residents to advise the city of an adopted hydrant. Officials are asking residents to clear a path approximately 3 feet around chosen hydrants.

The Nikiski Fire Department only has three hydrants in its area, and all are on commercially-owned property, Baisden said.

Instead, water tankers are used for fire response. The majority of smaller communities on the Kenai Peninsula -- anywhere outside of Homer, Seward, Kenai and Soldotna -- use tankers to fight fires, he said.

The tankers hold 4,000 gallons of water, and multiple tankers are used during an emergency. Nikiski responders used over 30,000 gallons of water during the most recent fire, Baisden said.

The fire chief said he supports the hydrant program, but rural issues are different.

"The roads are getting narrower," he said.

"People should realize that our emergency equipment is having a hard time getting to their homes, and even into their driveways, so anything the public can do to help us would be greatly appreciated."

Keeping your address visible and your driveway clear helps, he added.
Soldotna's biggest problem is the high number of hydrants, said Brad Nelson, CES safety officer.

Three CES crews are assigned to different sectors of the city. The crews are responsible for keeping hydrants in their sectors clear throughout the winter.

"The guys were out yesterday clearing the hydrants," Nelson said. "That's their area of responsibility for the season, so they just keep clearing them and clearing them and clearing them."

Another problem is that people plow their driveways and push snow toward hydrants, and city plows ultimately do the same.

Nelson said a few committed individuals have helped with clearing hydrants, but the response has not been overwhelming. It's something that needs constant attention.

"It's a problem every year," he said. "Of course, it's compounded with winters like this where we have endless amounts of snow."

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at


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