Mud hole bogs down emergency responders

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

Combine Alaska spring with a fire and what do you get?

An emergency big enough to sink a battleship.

Or a fire engine, a water truck and an Alaska State Troopers vehicle, according to everyone who responded to a mobile home fire in Ninilchik Saturday night.

The 11:30 p.m. radio call for assistance caught EMT Sue Simonds' attention for two reasons. Ninilchik EMTs respond with the firefighters, and the Holly Street location of the fire was near Simonds' home.

Simonds and trooper Chad Goeden, who was off-duty and serves as a Ninilchik volunteer firefighter in his off time, were the first to arrive on the scene.

"We made it in, but we knew others wouldn't make it," said Simonds, who successfully maneuvered her four-wheel drive truck through mud, water and frost heaves to reach the burning home.

"We found out as we were rolling up that no one was in the home," said Phil Curry, Ninilchik fire chief.

That was the good news.

When Mike Chihuly, driver of Engine 1, arrived minutes later, he was directed to use a nearby neighbor's yard for a staging area. That's when things started to go bad.

"The place I drove onto, I didn't have a clue it would be a problem," Chihuly said.

The engine became stuck in what looked like firm, dry ground.

"It was a fiasco," Curry said. "The road just really wasn't thawed out enough for us."

An ambulance, driven by EMT Wayne Taggart, was behind Chihuly.

"The fire trucks are a lot heavier," said Taggart, explaining why the ambulance was able to avoid becoming a victim of spring break-up.

Two tankers were traveling behind Taggart.

"One of those (underground) bubbles of water had thawed out and when (the second tanker) went over it, the tanker sunk up to the axles," Chihuly said.

Simonds' husband Paul, who owns Inlet View Construction, was summoned to tow the stranded tanker out of what was quickly becoming a quagmire.

Trooper Rick Roberts was the next person to come down the street. It was Roberts' third day on the peninsula, having recently transferred from the Fairbanks area.

"A fireman told me to watch out for the hole," said Roberts, who was driving a Crown Victoria. Seeing what looked like an innocent puddle, Roberts was certain it would be no problem. However, the next thing he knew, the patrol car also was stuck.

"I am 10-7 and 10-23," Roberts radioed to the troopers, meaning he was both out of service and on the scene.

The depth of the water made it impossible for Roberts to open the door on the driver's side, requiring him to exit the vehicle by crawling out the window.

Electrical wiring is being blamed for the blaze, which destroyed the mobile home.

Fire Chief Curry said the intense heat of the fire caused a tree 150 feet from the home to catch fire.

"Defensible space is really important," Curry said. "It's a lot better since loggers got busy this last winter. That really helped the fire protection locally."

Simonds, who finally returned home at 2 a.m., was ever mindful of her position as secretary and treasurer on Ninilchik Community Ambulance Association's board of directors.

"We've got a membership drive going on," said Simonds. "Membership is $10, but we also accept donations."

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