The new fire and EMS station for Ninilchik Emergency Services is nearly complete. The facility will provide more space for equipment and the roughly 30 volunteers who make NES tick.
It’s taken about four years to get the new building put together, but it should be finished by May or June. Mike Chihuly has been volunteering with the department for the last 30 years. He also served as fire chief for 13 of those and recently retired in December. Chihuly said the new building was badly needed.
"The station we've had for a long time, 15, 20 years, and it's very small. It was designed for four vehicles, four pieces of apparatus and we have six squeezed into it right now."
And the cramped building meant firefighters and EMTs couldn’t get between the trucks and getting into compartments for supplies has pretty much been impossible.
"Unfortunately it's kind of a danger situation. Even our firefighters, when they're putting on their turn-out gear, have to step back to keep their toes from being run over by the firetruck if the truck is going out while they're putting their gear on," Chihuly said.
Close quarters were a problem for sure, but there was another issue: The volunteers never had water on site. At least, not the huge volume of water you’d need to be able to fight a fire. Chihuly said the department had been pulling water from the fairgrounds or from the sprinkler system that the school uses.
"Both of those water sources aren't always dependable I should say, and they're limited in quantity."
With the new building, the department will have access to a 20,000 gallon cistern. That will make a huge difference when it comes to putting out fires within the NES service area, which Chihuly said is Ninilchik itself along with about 25 miles of highway.
"And if we had a fire, at say, one end of our service area, we have about 5,000 gallons of water on the trucks. But, at 1,000 gallons a minute, which is what our trucks will pump, in five minutes you're done. You're out of water. Then it's 20 minutes to drive back to the fairgrounds. It takes 20 minutes to fill the truck, and another 20 minutes to drive back. We could be without water for as much as an hour just because of the travel time and because of the slow fill rates and the small water volumes that are available to us," he said.
It’s a logistical nightmare. But having those reserves and a better fill rate will make things better for volunteers and the community. Especially when it comes to purchasing fire insurance for your home.
Chihuly said right now it’s really hard for people in the area to actually get insurance. That’s based on the department’s water situation and the distance it has to cover. The ISO or Insurance Services Office provides a rating between one and 10 and that affects what you pay. The lower the number, the better. But the Ninilchik service area isn’t rated at all.
"That was one of the goals. Once we get this station going is to get our ISO rating and to get it down to an eight or a nine, which should save everybody $100 to $300 a year on their insurance per dwelling," he said.
And Chihuly said a new station could also entice new volunteers to come out of the woodwork.
"Having money and having a nice station and new facilities, something you can be proud of; I think that will help us."
He said the department could finally look into getting that wildland firefighting truck they’ve been considering, too. But that will take a little budgeting or a generous donation. The NES is actually a non-profit organization that isn’t supported with tax payer dollars. Chihuly said the majority of the money to build the new facility came through state dollars, but community members helped crowd source funding to at least buy the plot of land where it sits.
The new building is also located on Kingsley Road and as Chihuly said it’s a “stone’s throw away” from the old one. He said there will likely be an open house once everything is finished. For now he and others are still putting the final touches like selecting carpeting and waiting for warmer weather to add the siding.