Mini-fire stations coming to the Bush

Posted: Tuesday, August 07, 2001

BETHEL (AP) -- New fire equipment that can be hooked up to snowmachines or ATVs is being is being sent to villages in western Alaska to see if the mini-fire stations can solve some of the problems of fighting fires in the remote communities.

Kwethluk and Quinhagak will be among the first villages to get the new equipment, being brought to the Bush by Alaska Village Initiatives, the Bureau of Land Management and the state fire marshal.

The gear should arrive in the region with the next summer barge, project director George Quinto told the Tundra Drums.

Like meals-ready-to-eat or first-aid kits, the mini-fire stations are complete products. Connex containers that have been cut in half house all the equipment.

That equipment includes two 44-inch-wide trailers that can be hooked up to snowmachines or four-wheelers. The first trailer holds two gallons of chemical that can be converted with compressed air into 600 gallons of firefighting foam. The second trailer has fire hoses, fire pumps and ice augers.

The containers become into 8-by-10-foot insulated structures with heat and electricity.

''There is no heat at our fire station now,'' said Daniel Olick, Village Police Safety Officer for Kwethluk. ''We do not fill it with water in the wintertime. If there is water in there, and it freezes, we will lose the truck altogether.''

The initial phase of the project is being funded by a $482,000 appropriation from the federal government obtained by Sen. Ted Stevens, said Tom Harris, president of AVI.

Alaska leads the nation in fire losses per capita. As many as 100 villages have little or no fire protection, according to the state fire marshal's office.

Many villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have lost residents to fires.

When a Kwethluk house fire killed two young boys, volunteers ran a quarter of a mile down to the river with buckets and carried them back to throw on the fire, according to Olick.

''The state trooper was there. I looked at him and I shook my head and I told him this is what I don't like to see,'' Olick said.

The fire stations use new technology that helps communities with limited water sources, Harris said. It only takes 39 gallons of water to produce 600 gallons of cold compressed air foam. David Marth, a former Alaska Bush pilot, developed the foam.

The seven villages chosen from 76 applicants for the first round of equipment had to meet certain criteria that included having poor equipment and having suffered a high level of fire destruction.

But perhaps more important, the villages chosen had volunteers ready to be trained on the equipment, power plant operators and permanent VPSOs.

The state fire marshal's office will provide training on the new equipment as it arrives, said Quinto. ''We are not just throwing money into the projects,'' he said.

The training could be the biggest benefit of the project, said Olick, the Kwethluk VPSO. Few people in the village know how to use a fire truck, and fire training is not offered at the regular training sessions for village officers, Olick said.



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