911 Might Not Be So Sketchy in Hope Soon
By Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay
The small rural town of Hope, Alaska may lie on the state road system, but emergency services are sketchy and unpredictable. This inconsistent service may soon be changing.
The Kenai Borough, in accordance with SB 100 signed into law by Governor Walker last year, is working on expanding its emergency 911 corridor along every mile of the highway. To this extent, the Eastern Peninsula Highway Service Area is contracting with individual fire departments along the route. The goal is to increase services with additional equipment and trained responders.
Over the last 12 months, the Hope Sunrise Emergency Services (HSES), the recent combining of the fire department and the Hope EMS, has acquired and replaced surplus response vehicles from other departments around the state.
“We replaced a 40-year-old, two-wheel drive ambulance with a 2007 four-wheel drive Type 1 ambulance from the Anchorage Fire Department,” shares Brendan Maguire, Hope’s Fire Chief and current Vice-President of the HSES. “Additionally, Houston donated a 2,500-gallon engine, Bear Creek donated a 2,000-gallon tanker truck, and Chugiak donated a four-wheel drive heavy rescue truck, effectively replacing a van and truck that we were using to haul water.”
With the much-needed equipment now available, the next hurdle is getting qualified, trained individuals on board to help with the response.
“The challenge here is real. With only 168 residents, the available pool of full-time responders is limited,” explains Maguire. “Currently, there are three people who handle the lion’s share of the medical calls. All of these guys are working men, and they make themselves available when they can. While we have another [person] currently in training, the challenge is coming up with around the clock, around the calendar coverage to qualify for the EPHSA contract (Eastern Peninsula Highway Service Area).”
In an effort to help, the EPHSA has agreed to give Hope $5,000, with no obligation, to provide training for the EMT-1 and ETT levels require both to provide care and to drive the ambulance. “Our goal is to get six to ten committed individuals to train as EMT-1s, then ask folks from the Fire Department to train to the ETT level and drive the ambulance,” says Maguire.
With a team as large as ten responders and ten drivers, the volunteers would then divide the month into a three-days-a-month of on call commitment.
Currently, if someone in either Hope or Sunrise dials 911, the call is connected with the Soldotna Trooper Dispatch, who in turn calls Hope’s Dispatcher. They then contact members of the HSES team. Additionally, Cooper Landing and Moose Pass receive the same emergency call and are sent as backup responders.
But it isn’t just health and physical emergencies that are currently being addressed in Hope. The HSES is structured as a wildland unit, so they do not enter buildings if they are burning.
“Last year, our fire department responded to and extinguished four brush fires,” shares Maguire. “Moving forward, we don’t have plans to shift to structural firefighting, though we will look at the response requirements for managing vehicle fires.” Many of these brush fires are due to camp fires that were not properly put out by campers.
Simultaneous to the increased training, equipment acquisition and coverage areas, the HSES is restructuring some of its administration. One man who has tireless worked to advance the efforts of the Hope emergency services is stepping down. And the town of Hope has expressed its desire to honor him by dedicating the Fire Hall in his name. Scott Sherritt has helped create and grow the Hope Volunteer Fire Department since he arrived in town.
“Serving as Fire Chief, EMT responder, and currently the President of the Board of the HSES Directors, at each turn he has focused community attention on taking the steps to take care of each other,” says Maguire. “With boots in the board room and on the ground, he has selflessly committed his time to supporting the community he loves.”
After more than 20 years in an administrative position and organization of the department, Sherritt is leaving the HSES Board. Sherritt’s position on the Board will be replaced by Maguire who has assumed the President of the HSES Board position.
“Scott will be splitting his time between his home and art gallery in Hope and a winter retreat in Arizona,” shares Maguire.
To honor Sherritt’s dedication to the service of others and his ongoing support of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services in Hope, a party was held on Sat., May 12 at the Hope Fire Hall. All enjoyed the live music by Tricky and Getdowns, plus a roasted pig, brisket, burgers and hot dogs. The event was potluck-style, where guests brought an assortment of snacks, salads, appetizers and desserts that were shared.
A silent auction selling vehicles that are now retired from service was held during the party. The proceeds from the auction are going to the funding of the department, providing fuel, insurance and sundry equipment as needed. All titles and keys were given over to the winners at the close of the auction. Included in the sale were a 1989 Ford Van, 1986 Chevy Suburban, 1985 2,500-gallon International Water Tanker, 1977 Chevy Cheyenne Ambulance and an equipment trailer. This event was a great time to learn about becoming “fire wise” for home and property as well as finding out about volunteer and training opportunities through the HSES.
The HSES would also like to acknowledge the following individuals who have donated many hours to the success of the department and the safety of the community: Valerie DeFrance and her husband, Ray, were cornerstones of the ambulance response for many years; EMS Chief Travis Peterson, Levi Hogan and Calvin Walton are currently actively involved in carrying a great amount of the burden of the emergency medical part of the combined services.
Due to the increasing amount of beetle-killed Spruce in the area around Hope, Larry Anderson was the first Fire Chief and was the driving force behind starting a fire department in Hope. Jim Skogstad spearheaded the construction of the fire hall along with Henry Motoyama, Michael Durrant, John Chandler and other residents. Henry Motoyama was also Fire Chief and “point man” on emergency rescue and fire response for many years; Tom and Joyce Burgin and Scott Sherritt were EMS responders for many years; Dwayne McBride and Kelly Kiesling are captains of the Fire Department; and Carney Joe Knyszek has been the long-time department mechanic and fix-it man.