Nikiski fire department purchases new vehicles

Nikiski Fire Department personnel take a first look at their new water tanker.

Residents and fire fighters gathered Tuesday evening at Nikiski Station One to induct two new state-of-the-art water tankers.


The guests participated in a traditional ceremony by pushing out the old tankers and pushing new tankers into the station. The custom displays the department's pride and dedication, said Nikiski Fire Chief James Baisden.

"It gets all the fire fighters together, too," Baisden said. "They can see the tankers, put their hands on them, and it gives them that sense of pride and ownership."

Nikiski's new tankers include components aimed at increasing the department's response time and efficiency. Officials also are taking action to replace Nikiski's 30-year-old ladder truck.

The tankers are part of a ten-year capital improvement plan for the department, which purchased the tankers with a $150,000 state grant and $720,000 in local tax dollars, Baisden said.

The capability to carry large amounts of water is essential to the Nikiski Fire Service Area. There is a limited amount of fire hydrants in Nikiski. Each of the new tankers holds 4,000 gallons. Other departments in metropolitan areas own, in general, 2,500-gallon tankers.

Detachable water storage units on the new tankers allow Nikiski's emergency responders to leave water at the scene of a fire. One of the tankers can stay behind, fighting the fire, while the second tanker retrieves more water.

Hoses are attachable to either side and the back of the new tankers, another feature the old vehicles lacked.

"We can basically release water from anywhere," Baisden said. "The driver can approach the fire from multiple angles, which helps drop the water and get out quicker."

Baisden said the department plans to keep using its older tankers. At 28, the tankers are eight years past their average lifespan -- a testament to the ability of its maintenance crew.

The department is looking into converting one or both of the tankers to carry foam instead of water. Foam is useful for fighting hydrocarbon-based fuel fires. The energy infrastructure in the Nikiski area would highly benefit from a foam tanker, Baisden said.

Another purchase also will improve the department's capabilities.

Gov. Sean Parnell on May 14 signed Senate Bill 160, which allocates $975,000 in grant funds for the purchase of a new ladder truck. The department's nearly 30-year-old ladder truck is in poor condition, according to a letter submitted to the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The department purchased the three original vehicles being replaced in 1983.

Usually the second apparatus on scene during a fire, the ladder truck offers efficiency to the small department. Using ground ladders to fight fires may require four to five emergency responders. The same amount of work can be done with two fire fighters using a ladder truck, Baisden said.

Replacing the ladder truck also has a positive impact on the community's insurance rating. More equipment translates into lower insurance costs for residents. Generally, fire departments are evaluated every ten years and are graded on a scale of one to 100. Nikiski received two points for their ladder truck during its last inspection.

"If we didn't have (the ladder truck) the department would lose those points," Baisden said. "Our goal is to have a positive effect, that's why we try hard to maintain our equipment and our response capabilities."

The department's next inspection is scheduled for August. Baisden expects his department to purchase the new ladder truck within a year if not sooner.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at


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