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Assistance To Firefighters Grants Success Stories - Ketchikan, AK

This page highlights how an AFG grant funded training that helped firefighters save a school building. This page is intended for fire departments and nonaffiliated Emergency Medical Service organizations (EMS).


Training Helps Firefighters Save Elementary School Building


North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department

KETCHIKAN, AK -- North Tongass is located at the northern edge of Ketchikan, a city in southeastern Alaska. In 2003, the local subscription fire department that had been serving the 3,500 residents of North Tongass closed its doors.

Until a new fire service could be established, the South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department (STVFD) agreed to provide fire protection to North Tongass, and the Ketchikan Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD) provided EMS. The North Tongass area consists of about 100 square miles and contains 25 miles of roads.

The North Tongass Volunteer Fire Departments first Firefighter I class. Photo courtesy of David Hull.According to Scott Davis, chief of the STVFD, this arrangement presented a logistical nightmare.

"Due to our location, it was necessary to split the rolling stock of our department geographically between the South Tongass and North Tongass areas," said Chief Davis. "It was especially hard during the winter months, when fire apparatus had to be housed in unheated buildings or left outdoors, and damage to pumps and equipment was extensive."

In addition, sending STVFD members 15 miles north during the winter to answer fire calls in North Tongass put the firefighters at risk and depleted the ability of South Tongass to respond to emergencies in its own area.

"By the time we got to a fire in North Tongass, nearly 20 minutes had elapsed," said Chief Davis. "Given the fact that fire doubles in size every minute, you can imagine what we found--the remains of the foundation."

At least two incidents occurred during this period in North Tongass district that unfortunately resulted in substantial property losses.Fire crews arrive at Point Higgins Elementary School. They position their trucks to combat a smoldering brush fire before it gets closer to the school. Photo courtesy of David Hull.

"During this time, the residents of North Tongass essentially had NO fire protection," said Chief Davis.
To change this situation, the North Tongass Volunteer Fire Department (NTVFD) was formed. However, the firefighters had no SCBAs, no personal protective equipment, and no way to train volunteers.

The Department received AFG funding in 2003 and 2004 for training new firefighters and for personal protective equipment. By February 1, 2004, one year after the Department was organized, the NTVFD firefighters and emergency personnel were trained and equipped to provide primary coverage for all fire and medical emergencies in North Tongass.

In June 2005, when a brush fire threatened the Point Higgins Elementary School in North Tongass, the NTVFD was the first on the scene. As the first-arriving department, NTVFD quickly began an attack on the fire.

"If we had had to wait for help to arrive from town before an attack could have begun," said Chief Hull, "significant damage to the school would have resulted."

The day after the Point Higgins School brush fire. Photo courtesy of David Hull.STVFD and KVFD also responded to the incident and worked together with NTVFD firefighters for several hours to put out the fire.

"Because of the opportunity the AFG afforded the NTVFD by providing equipment and training," said Chief Hull, "the Point Higgins School fire was brought under control by units and personnel early enough to prevent significant damage from happening."

The fire was put out without any damage to the school or nearby buildings, and no injuries occurred in the effort.

Thanks to the AFG, the North Tongass community now has a fire department with 14 trained volunteer firefighters and 2 career firefighters. "None of this would have been possible without the AFG grants," said Chief Hull.

What They Bought With The Grant:

  • Training for firefighters and EMS
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Firefighting and rescue equipment
  • Wellness and fitness activities
Last Updated: 
09/04/2015 - 13:53