SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Proposal to purchase property for Fire Station 7
By Dave Hull


June 17, 2010
Thursday PM

In reference to Mr. Rodney Dial's questions regarding the proposal to purchase property for Fire Station 7, he asks that I answer questions he poses in his letter to the editor. For the record, these are excellent questions that I am sure are being asked by many. I encourage others to call, write or stop by and talk.

I have a few questions that I would respectfully like Chief Hull to answer so that the citizens can make an accurate risk/benefit assessment of this proposal. Those questions are:

First of all Mr. Dial, thank you for taking the time to give your opinion and ask the questions you have. The intent of the flyer was to draw attention to the possible purchase of the land at 10540 NTH for Fire Station 7 and solicit input. Your questions are very good ones and I will be happy to address each of them to the best of my ability. Please see below:

How many house fires has NTFD responded to in the last five years? Only actual house fires in NTFD area, please do not include instances that were "false alarms", extinguished before your arrival, burn piles, etc. True house fires only (as a layman would classify them), which should provide a basis for the actual need to increase water flow rate capacity.

NTVFD has had 8 structure fires in the last 5 years. 5 were extensively damaged or complete losses. Three were very good stops where a significant amount of fire was extinguished before the structure was lost. There have been at least two 'controlled' brush fires that had NTVFD not intervened a structure would likely have been lost.

The need to provide any water capacity at all is not solely based upon how many fires we have; rather it is based upon the need for enough water when we have a fire. The need is situational and the need is urgent.

To effectively fight a fire in an averaged sized house you need 200-250 gallons per minute (gpm). The needed gpm goes up with the size of the structure. There are a few sizeable structures in our area and we need to base our planning upon the likelihood that these sizable structures will catch fire and how much water we will need to extinguish the fire and, of course, where we are going to get the water.

Of the above numbers, the number that would have seen a "significantly' (not merely speculative) better outcome had station 7 been in existence. For example, it seems reasonable that a new station 7 would provide no measurable benefit for those fires north of, and near station 8, or south of and around station 6.

The honest answer to your question is none of them. The extinguishments that were most effective, or ' saved' the most property, were those that were put out in the first few minutes of arrival of a fire pumper, water and the manpower to deploy the water.

The hard fact is that most active fire alarms we receive are after the flames have already progressed to the point of major structural damage. Our goal at that point is to prevent the fire from spreading to another structure, which I am sure you would agree is pretty 'significant' to the owner of the exposed structure.

If the primary goal is a strategically located water storage facility then why do we need another governmental building? Why not just purchase or lease a vacant lot in the area at a fraction of the price and put a few tanks on it?

We have in fact been seeking land for some time to do just that. It is easy to understand that the less distance we have to travel to get water the more we can provide at the scene of a fire. However, it also means a safer environment for everyone on the road when the driver of a tanker does not have to feel pressured to 'push it' if the water haul is a long one and on scene supplies are dwindling.

In a planning sense it is preferable to house the water transfer equipment near the water tank so responding volunteers won't have to travel so far to respond a tanker or a pumper. The long term plan (Resolution 1781) lays out locations for four stations. The two additional stations were to be smaller, two or even one bay stations to house units closer to the demographic that may need them the most and hopefully the volunteers to man them. The availability of the building at 10540 NTH is happenstance although it is nearly perfectly located for our purposes and absolutely suited for our needs.

Could we accomplish essentially the same benefits by increasing the water storage capabilities of station 8, and/or positioning an additional tanker at station 6?

A very good question. We now have two tankers stationed at Station 6 and a tanker/pumper stationed at Station 8. The plan would move one tanker from Station 6 to the proposed Station 7, wherever it is located. We have enough water between Station 8 (22,500) and the school (if they have enough water in their tanks) to supply water. Again it isn't the amount of storage that affects the gpm on scene as much as the distance we have to travel to fill and return to dump the water in our drop tanks. If we can't get water from Station 8 or the school we have to go to Ward Cove. There is nothing in the middle except for Whipple Creek but that would take another rig and most importantly more people, which we lack.

Which is better when tanker refill rates are considered? Construction of station 7 which will only have the water it can store, used with the existing fleet of tankers, or purchase of an additional tanker stationed at station 6 (3 miles away)? Station 6 has unlimited water resources, right?

It is good you brought up the availability of water. The only practical water source we have that we can count on to effectively fill our tankers in a reasonable amount of time is the old pulp mill site. That water comes from Connell Lake Dam through the pipe line. We have been told that there is a very good possibility that the pipeline will go away in the next few years if it is not repaired or a buyer cannot be found.

If we lose this water source we will be forced to pull our water from Ward Lake, Whipple Creek or anywhere else we can get close enough to the water's edge to safely draft from. Losing the pipeline without some way to make up for the extended driving distance and slower filling times would greatly reduce our gpm on scene and could affect our ability to save a structure that might have been saved.

The other factor that has not been discussed much is manpower to operate the rigs during an emergency. We need volunteers.

Chief Hull, I see from your flyer that you imply that a new station (7) could improve the ISO rating and potentially lower home insurance costs. I would caution you and the board that at least one of the largest insurers in the area bases their rates on zip code, and not the ISO rating of where the home is located.

This means that homeowners in the North Tongass area who already have, or will get insurance through one of these carriers already get rates based upon the best ISO of the area which in this case is the City ISO rating. Adding a new station will not change rates for these people.

You are absolute correct in your statement that not all insurers utilize the ISO to base their insurance rates on. Our function here is to provide, to the best of our ability, good fire protection to the residents of the entire service area. How the residents insure their homes is a private matter. We offer no endorsements.

The ISO rating we have achieved does benefit those rate payers whose insurance company uses the ISO to base payment rates on. We have had reports of people saving over $400. You are also correct that just placing a fire station there will not be the sole determinant factor to raise the classification, but it does count.

Others who have seen rate decreases from past NT ISO rating changes may have realized savings by just changing carriers. In any case we need to be clear that you are proposing a guaranteed additional expense, for an only "possible" savings for some.

When anyone buys insurance they are pooling their money with other folks for times of emergency. The money is there for those whose emergency has caused them to need it, not for those that don't need it. Those that don't need it keep paying into the pool for those that will need it.

In the case of a fire most people won't have one, so most people don't need insurance. But, for those that do need the insurance it can be a life saver. So we all pay for the one who has a fire. You are correct that paying for Station 7 is a 'guaranteed expense' that would only provide 'possible' savings for some.

Since your flyer asks for community input, here is mine:

Look for grants to either purchase a vacant lot in the same general area to be used as a water storage area only (no building), or to purchase an additional tanker to be stationed at station 6.

We have written a number is grants and received a number of state appropriations already that has paid for just under 2/3rds of the entire rebuilding of the response system on the north end. We could use everyone's help by taking the time to support the funding requests with letters and phone calls to our local legislators. We have a very good volunteer who works long hours for NTVFD writing grants and has proven successful in her endeavors.

To the North Tongass Residents reading this, you need to speak up. If you can't take the time to at least write a letter then you have no right to complain when your taxes are raised.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of people talking to the Board and giving them their opinion on this and other issues that will come up. Thank you for your comment here.

Chief Hull, to you and your people thank you for your dedication. Your volunteers who risk their lives to protect the community for little to no pay are some of the finest people on the island and are true heroes.

And likewise, Mr. Dial, we have had the honor and privilege to work with some of the most dedicated and resourceful law enforcement personnel anywhere in the state.

Please, Mr. Dial, come to the meeting Thursday, June 24th starting at 6:00 pm and the 10540 location to voice your opinions to the Board in person and encourage all your friends to do the same. Also next time a vacancy on the Board becomes available I would encourage you to file for it. Your ideas are needed on the Board. Your participation in the department as a volunteer would be invaluable.

Dave Hull
Ketchikan, AK

About: Dave Hull is the Fire Chief of the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department.

Received June 17, 2010 - Published June 17, 2010


Related Viewpoint:

letterA letter to North Tongass Residents By Rodney Dial

Viewpoints - Opinion Letters:

letter Webmail Your Opinion Letter to the Editor



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