Fire truck donated to Funny River

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Funny River Emergency Services may soon be able to fight house fires, thanks to a donation from Tesoro Alaska Petroleum Co.

In December, Tesoro bought a new fire truck to protect its refinery in Nikiski. It donated the old truck to the Kenai Peninsula Fire Chiefs Association, which gave it two weeks ago to the fledgling Funny River department.

"We were looking for a home for our other truck," said Steve Hoogland, safety manager for the refinery. "We talked to (Nikiski Fire Chief) Bill Harris and brainstormed what we might be able to do with it. He knew of their need at Funny River."

Hoogland said Tesoro imported the pumper truck from Washington and converted it in the early 1980s for industrial use. Along with the truck, which Hoogland valued at $10,000 to $15,000, Tesoro donated $6,000 in parts to convert it back for municipal use. The Nikiski Fire Department did the work.

"We wanted it to be of value to somebody here in the community," Hoogland said.

Funny River Chief Will Jaster said other departments have been eager to help the Funny River volunteers, who formed a nonprofit corporation just last year. The Alaska Division of Forestry obtained a surplus wildlands fire truck for Funny River and equipped it with a 150-gallon water tank, a fire pump, hoses and a two-way radio.

Jaster said the Homer Volunteer Fire Department just donated 20 sets of fire gear, including coats, pants, boots, helmets, hoods and gloves. The Nikiski Fire Depart-ment donated a compressor to fill air bottles for firefighters' air masks.

Jaster said he hopes to borrow five self-contained breathing apparatus, SCBA for short, until his department raises the money to buy them. SCBAs cost about $800 each used or $2,500 each new, he said.

He is looking for donations of surplus fire hose. However, Funny River Emergency Services likely will have to buy items such as nozzles, axes and ladders, he said. He estimates it will cost about $5,000 to equip the new truck.

Funny River Emergency Services already has five volunteers trained as firefighters, including three who work for the Division of Forestry, Jaster said. Another 15 people have expressed interest in becoming firefighters, and Jaster hopes to organize a class this winter.

The community of Funny River is inside the Central Peninsula Emergency Medical Service Area, which collects property taxes to fund ambulance service. However, Central Emergency Service Area, which collects property taxes to fund fire protection, ends at about Mile 10 Funny River Road.

Central Emergency Services in Soldotna has stationed an ambulance in Funny River. Jaster said seven Funny River medics double as Funny River Emergency Service volunteers and on-call CES employees to man the ambulance, which has responded to five calls since the service started in March.

Jaster said the department's new chief medical officer and medical liaison with CES is Bill Newberry, a physician's assistant who works as chief medical officer for the Red Dog Mine. Newberry brings advanced cardiac skills to the Funny River ambulance service.

Funny River Emergency Services volunteers will staff the fire services. Jaster said the Funny River wildlands truck has been called to one fire, but that turned out to be a controlled burn.

For now, the Funny River department keeps the ambulance at the garage of its president, Byron Bondurant, the brush truck at Jaster's house and the fire engine at a barn owned by Jack Lopshire.

However, the department has bought 4.5 acres for a fire station at Mile 16.5 of Funny River Road. Jaster said volunteers hope eventually to build a station similar to the CES station on Kalifornsky Beach Road, but that will cost about $350,000.

In the meantime, they are hunting for a $30,000 grant to build a heated building to house emergency vehicles and equipment temporarily. Once that is done, Jaster said, he will ask the Insurance Service Organization to rate the Funny River fire service. That could bring a reduction in homeowner insurance rates.

When the permanent fire station goes in, the $30,000 structure could be used for storage and an emergency shelter, since a forest fire or an earthquake easily could close Funny River Road.

"So, if there is a fire or an earthquake, we could evacuate to the fire station," he said.

The department has installed a well on its land, and it just received a $15,000 grant, with help from the Rural Conservation and Develop-ment District, to install a water system.

The department also had about $4,000 from donations and fund-raisers, Jaster said, and it recently used that to buy three 10,000-gallon water tanks. He said he plans to bury two of those at the site of the new station to store water for fire trucks and hopes to barter the third for fire equipment from another department.

The missing link is a tanker truck that could ferry water from the underground tanks to the pumper during a fire. Jaster said he is trying to find a tanker through the Division of Forestry. He also hopes to sign a mutual aid agreement with CES, which might then bring a tanker from Soldotna while the Funny River department makes its initial attack.

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