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Ninilchik residents demand answers to changes in emergency services after fire chief’s termination

 Ninilchik residents ask questions about emergency services restructuring at a town hall meeting Feb. 6. (KTUU)
Ninilchik residents ask questions about emergency services restructuring at a town hall meeting Feb. 6. (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Feb. 6, 2020 at 10:37 PM AKST
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Some residents of a Kenai Peninsula town are concerned for their safety as their only emergency services infrastructure sees big changes.

The Fire Chief at Ninilchik Emergency Services, David Bear, was terminated on Tuesday as part of a restructuring process for the small, non-profit volunteer station. Assistant Chief Grace Huhndorf, an EMT II, was also terminated. The NES Board of Directors says the restructuring is necessary in order to take advantage of grant funding and comply with labor standards.

Along with his role as fire chief, Bear and Huhndorf were also the most experienced of the NES EMTs; the only certified to apply Advanced Life Support measures. Bear has agreed to stay on temporarily as NES transitions. However, if they get overwhelmed with calls Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Services is the closest service to respond. There’s no guarantee they would respond fast enough, as they have to prioritize calls within their service area.

“In a life and death situation, the answer is death,” a Ninilchik resident said at a town hall meeting Thursday evening, talking about relying on Anchor Point for supplemental service.

“There is a lot of us who are elderly, and we rely on knowing that help is just down the road,” she continued.

“What is the solution?” Another resident asked. “We want the service to get back on the road as quickly as it can.”

The main solution mentioned Thursday: bring Ninilchik inside the Anchor Point service area. Residents would be voting to tax themselves to have consistent EMS response. A Kenai Peninsula Borough spokesperson estimated the mill levy for Ninilchik residents to join the service area at about $27 per $100,000 of assessed property value. That would also have to be approved by KPB voters.

Residents waited for over an hour for the NES Board of Directors to arrive at Thursday’s meeting. In a heated exchange, several folks demanded a reason for why NES terminated David Bear.

NES Board President Darrell Williams thanked Bear for his “professionalism” through this process, but citing privacy concerns would not provide further information.

For now, it’s reduced EMS services for Ninilchik residents, with Anchor Point supplementing when possible.

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