The Nikiski Fire Department has a new chief.
James Baisden, who for the last nine years has worked for the city of Kenai, first as its fire marshal and for the past two years as assistant fire chief with fire marshal duties, will assume his new post at Nikiski on Oct. 15.
Nikiski's firefighters include both paid and volunteer members, while Kenai's department was strictly paid. That isn't the only difference, Baisden noted.
The Nikiski Fire Department serves an area covering over 6,000 square miles, and includes Beluga and Tyonek across Cook Inlet, as well as remote regions of the peninsula inaccessible by road, such as the Gray Cliffs Subdivision north of the end of the Spur Highway.
"It's a vast system," Baisden said, adding that when people in those areas get hurt or need other services, it can present a problem getting to them in a timely fashion.
Among the challenges, he said, will be keeping the volunteer force interested, trained and energized. But Baisden believes he has the background to do that, having been raised in a firefighting family in Logan, W.Va.
"I grew up as a volunteer," he said. "The goal is to train people in the local community so you can someday perhaps move them up to paid positions. That doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it sure is nice."
In an interview Oct. 10, Baisden said he had been meeting with members of the Nikiski Fire Service Area Board, as well as with acting chief Dan Gregory and assistant chief Jim Allemann, in preparing to assume his new position.
"My goal is to evaluate operations to begin with and prioritize important aspects of the job," he said. "There are three things that top my list - emergency response, making sure it is done safely, and having the necessary equipment and training."
The Nikiski Fire Department has recently received several grants for new equipment that should expand the department's capabilities, including a $50,000 state grant to buy ATVs and snowmachines for off-road response. According to the borough, there are approximately 300 remote cabins within the service area. The department also has acquired a pair of new tankers.
Baisden, 43, has been a firefighter for 25 years, including a stint as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force from 1985 to 1994. As fire marshal for Kenai, he was in charge of code enforcement, construction plan reviews, and investigations.
He is married with three children, including a baby girl.
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