SITKA -

A bill advancing in the state Legislature would allow Alaska's village public safety officers to carry guns, a move backers hope will make them safer in what is often an isolated line of duty.

On a sun-splashed winter day, the Southeast Alaska fishing town of Sitka is mostly quiet.

The only noise you may hear comes from the Alaska Department of Public Safety training academy.

This year's class of VPSOs is almost through with a 10-week training course.

"Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to help people," said James Kvamme.

Kvamme is one of 13 VPSOs in this year's class. He was recently hired by his hometown of Aniak, but a major facet of his job could soon change if the legislature approves a bill allowing native associations to arm VPSOs.

"I'd love to do the firearms training," Kvamme said. "I think it's another tool we would have available to us, but I'd hate to have to use it."

There are 90 VPSOs spread across rural villages and towns, places State Troopers can't necessarily get to on short notice.

The idea to arm VPSOs came after officer Thomas Madole was killed on March 19th, 2013, while responding to a disturbance at a home in Manokotak, a South Yukon Delta village in state Rep. Bryce Edgmon's (D-Dillingham) legislative district.

Days after Madole was slain, Edgmon went back home and after talking with VPSOs, proposed a bill to allow them to carry guns.

"I had the opportunity for about a half hour to hear their personal and up close stories about what it's like to be a law enforcement officer in the bush, and not be armed," Edgmon said. "What I heard made my skin crawl."

If Edgmon's bill passes, the Department of Public Safety would add additional firearms instruction to an already intense training schedule.

"There is going to be disciplines, judgment disciplines," said Capt. Steve Arlow. "How to be able to manipulate the firearm properly under stress, and be able to perform under stress, and score to a certain level."

This is Arlow's eighth year of heading up the VPSO training program. Trainees are sequestered at the Sitka training facility day and night, as they prepare for the life of a lone law enforcement officer in rural Alaska.

"The Village Public Safety Officer is not just a law enforcement component. There are search and rescue duties, there's EMS duties," Arlow said. "They have firefighting and they have a lot of involvement in community policing."

VPSOs are also put through a rigorous obstacle course, wilderness survival training and even hand-to-hand combat.

For James Kvamme, the prospect of being armed is not new for him. He's a former municipal police officer and Coast Guardsman, but he knows carrying a gun isn't the be-all, end-all to problems that may surface in rural Alaska.

"It's just another tool that we have on our tool belt," Kvamme said. "It doesn't make me feel any more secure or less secure about the job that we do, just because of the relationship that we have in villages and the rapport that we have with people."

Edgmon's bill cleared the State Affairs committee Tuesday, and heads to the House Finance Committee, before being heard on the house floor.