The Steese Volunteer Fire Service Area is located on the north-east border of Alaska’s second largest city Fairbanks, which is located in the central interior portion of Alaska. Once outside of the city of Fairbanks and into the Steese Volunteer Fire Service Area, the population becomes suburban and rural with most homes on I and 2 acre tracts that are heavily wooded. The fire service area also has more than 50 commercial businesses and restaurants to protect.
The service area covers 39.52 square miles and with a population of approximately 9,750 permanent residents with population surges to more than 12,000 during the summer tourist season. We operate out of three fire stations. Our EMS response area is much larger and covers approximately 2200 square miles with state parks and recreational areas for camping, hiking, and fishing. Our three fire station locations are less than 20 minutes to the University of Alaska through which our members can attend classes. All three stations have rooms that accommodate our live-in resident scholarship firefighters.
The Steese Volunteer Fire Department Inc. contracts with the Fairbanks North Star Borough to provide fire and EMS services to these areas. We are a combination paid/volunteer department that faces unique challenges. The department has approximately 50 active members, consisting of 25 volunteers, 15 of which are enrolled in the Scholarship program, and 10 full time paid members.
Our members protect the community where they live and work. It is a vast area of private residences and businesses, trailer courts, 5 small assisted living facilities for the elderly, two large elementary schools, four historic landmarks and critical national infrastructure. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) runs through the middle of the Steese Fire Service Area from Chena Hot Springs Highway to the Elliott Highway which is the road to the North Slope oil fields. There are numerous oil pipeline access points along both highways to the public. It was one of these access points that the pipeline was sabotaged in 1978 with an explosive device. This oil pipeline is of utmost importance economically and for national security, as it provides 15% of domestic oil production. On October 4, 2001 the pipeline was again sabotaged by a high-powered rifle shot causing a spill of 285,000 gallons of crude to which our department responded to assist cleanup crews with fire protection.
The department has fully implemented the National Incident Management System into our required training and certifications for emergency responders. All personnel are certified to the IS-100 and 700 levels. All active responders are trained at the IS-200 and 800 levels. Seven Chief Officers and three Captains are certified to the ICS 300 and 400 levels. Through the assistance of a State wide Homeland Security Grant, we have met the goal of statewide inter-operable communications using P25 compliant communications standards, which allows us the use of the Alaska Land Mobile Radio (ALMR) system. The department trains on a regular basis in borough and state disaster drills. Last year in both disaster training drills, the new inter-operable communication system was used.
Volunteers are a critical part of our response efforts. The department’s full-time staff is committed to serving the volunteers in providing proper training and equipment to perform their duties.