New chief stresses prevention

Posted: Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nikiski’s new fire chief, Fred Swen, may not have as much area to protect as his former job, but he takes he job seriously none-the-less.

Swen, a former U.S. Marine, retired as the command fire chief of the U.S. Army in September. The job included the overall fire protection of Donnelly Training Area, as well as Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright, an area that covers 1.8 million acres.

“Which is only half the size of Nikiski,” he said, adding that the Nikiski Fire Service Area is a 6,000 mile area that includes the villages of Tyonek and Beluga and all off-shore oil and gas platforms in Cook Inlet.

The same month he retired, he took the job as fire chief in Nikiski. He also moved into a newly built log home with his wife, Laura.

While the area he is in charge of is different in size, the overall goal of the job has stayed the same: fire prevention.

According to Swen, the biggest change in his job in Nikiski is the state takes care of all prevention matters in new construction, essentially all actions taken to eliminate hazards that contribute to fires.

To help businesses in the community, especially those with older buildings, Swen said he plans to start discussions, which will give him the opportunity to get more acquainted with the businesses. He said he will not be there to enforce fire safety rules, just help others achieve the overall goal — to prevent all fires — by providing more information.

“We will use prefire familiarization as a means to help people learn and improve their prevention skills,” he said. “But the suggestions will hopefully instill the fire and life safety measures.”

Swen said issues he plans to talk about include how not to overload wall plugs. Another issues that pops up this time of year is chimney fires. Swen plans to emphasize that the department loans out chimney brushes.

“We have had two chimney fires this winter,” he said.

Swen said his biggest concerns about his new service area are potential chimney and wildland fires.

“We need to be extra careful with both of those areas during the year,” he said.

While keeping the community safe is one major concerns, keeping the fire service area running smoothly is another. And that’s when he’s not handling administrative and managerial duties, personnel and budget issues.

His job mainly consists of learning how to continue the level of service that Nikiski residents are accustomed to, he said.

Another goal is to improve the firefighters’ knowledge through training and certification and making them responsible for managing different tasks at the station.

“It is not just my fire department, it belongs to all the firefighters,” Swen said.

By letting each individual work at their level of expertise, Swen hopes the firefighters will benefit.

“It helps them feel the ownership,” he said.

Swen replaces Dan Gregory as Nikiski chief.

“He left the organization in a good light,” Swen said. “So I am trying to fill some big shoes.”

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