Closed bridge raises issues

Emergency responders plan to avoid runaround

Posted: Wednesday, April 19, 2006

With gasoline prices hovering just below $3 a gallon you can be sure to hear a few groans from motorists as they loop through Kenai to reach opposite sides of the Sterling Highway bridge in Soldotna this week. But emergency responders have more to think about than just burning extra fuel when the bridge closes to traffic each night from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Saturday morning.

Law enforcement and emergency responders have had to do some additional planning and coordinating to ensure that response times don’t slow this week due to bridge construction.

Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking said the generally strong coordination between Soldotna police and the Alaska State Troopers will come in especially handy while the bridge is closed.

“The spirit of coordination has always been high on both sides,” he said.

Although one trooper will be stationed on the north side of the bridge, calls for law enforcement on that side of the bridge will be answered primarily by Soldotna police and calls for enforcement on the south side of the bridge by troopers.

“We generally work pretty seamlessly, but this takes a little more contemplation,” he said.

In addition to working in closer coordination with Soldotna police, troopers also may overlap shifts to provide more coverage, said Lt. Pete Mlynarik.

In response to the bridge closures, Central Emergency Services has stationed additional personnel, as well as additional equipment at the troopers station on the south side of the bridge and contacted the Kenai Fire Department to inform them there is an increased likelihood CES will request their assistance at night this week while the bridge is closed.

Additional personnel will be staffed during the bridge closures to operate the engine and ambulance that will be stationed with troopers, said Assistant Chief Gordon Orth.

Personnel will not be pulled from other CES stations, which will remain fully staffed, Orth said.

In addition to the engine and ambulance that will be available on the south side of the bridge, an engine, ambulance and tanker will be available at the CES station on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

CES also has coordinated with bridge construction authorities to allow for patients to be transported across the bridge in an emergency during the closures.

The crane will not be removable while the bridge is closed to drive steel pilings and no ambulances will be able to travel over the bridge. But the bridge will be opened to CES staff who can then transport a patient from an ambulance parked on the south side of the bridge to an ambulance waiting to finish taking the patient to the hospital, Orth said.

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