Capital City Fire Department officials in Juneau say the department is shorthanded and will go to great lengths to show the public why it needs more help and more resources.
"Our big issue here is being severely understaffed,” said IAFF Local 4303 President Noah Jenkins. “We currently run two-person engine companies; the standard is four. There are really very limited things we can do when we roll up on a fire with two people."
Capital City Fire invited members of the public, city officials and the media along for a recent show and tell to illustrate how grueling their job can be. Participants were put through various drills.
"I think trying to pull that body out, once we used the TIC (Thermal Imaging Device) and were able to see where they were, to be able to try and pull them out, because it was just dead weight, and being in a dark location and not knowing exactly where the door was, where you were pulling to,” said City/Borough Manager Kim Kiefer.
Kiefer and other participants had $10,000 worth of equipment and paired up with a firefighter.
For most of these policy makers and media types there is nothing normal about ventilating a roof while wearing 60 pounds of gear or riding in the back of an ambulance with a patient.
Juneau firefighters also wear another proverbial “helmet”: that of an EMS worker, and they say resources in that area are also scarce.
"In the summertime, we get an extra ambulance with us, and that's for all the cruise ships, to supplement our manpower, when the population of Juneau doubles, “said firefighter Travis Larsen. “But year-round if we had an extra ambulance, that would be huge."
The top brass at Capital City fire say they're operating on borrowed time. The department is in need of a new platform truck, which could cost up to $1.4 million.
"We’ve got some new dorms going in at the university, and those are going to be multi-story dorms, so being able to have apparatus in town, and then out at Auke bay as well as in glacier station that will be really important to meet the needs of our community,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer says she's hoping the legislature will pay for some of the cost of the truck.
The local International Firefighters Association helped put on the simulated fire, and members admit they did it to draw attention to how the department's lack of manpower is a public safety concern.
"We’ve been very lucky here in Juneau, we haven't had a fire death in many years,” Jenkins said. “We really fear that could happen, and we don't want it to happen on our watch."
It appears city leaders are taking notice of the urgency of the department's needs, even if they found out the hard way.
"I have a whole different understanding of it now,” Kiefer said. “I’m sure I’ll even feel it more tomorrow."
Capital City Fire officials say the department has about 18 firefighters staffing apparatus now, but for a city the size of Juneau they say they need at least 44.
Brian Partch, with Alaska Professional Fire Fighters, says the Anchorage Fire Department is requesting vehicle replacements for fire and building code inspectors, which carries a price tag of $300,000.
The department also needs a new edraulics or“Jaws of Life,” mechanism and a Thermal Imaging Device.
AFD is also asking for $8,000,000 to build a new vehicle maintenance shop. The current facility is 26
Chugiak is asking for a new fire apparatus capable of carrying large quantities of water to areas where there are no hydrants.