Talkeetna Fire Department to begin work on pre-fire plans

Firefighters respond to a house fire in Downtown Talkeetna in June of 2015. Photo by Phillip Manning

Beginning this winter, the Talkeetna Fire Department plans to conduct walkthroughs with businesses who would like to develop a pre-fire plan. The plan would include information such as the location of utility shutoffs, fuel storage, and, in the case of lodgings, where people might be sleeping in the event of a fire. Chief Eric Chappel says the information will help firefighters do their jobs more safely and efficiently.

“We carry iPads in the vehicles. This information will be in the iPads…When we get there, we tell a guy, ‘There should be a utility shutoff…I want you to turn that off, then I want you to turn off the fuel,’ for a house that’s on fire.”

To start with, Chief Chappel says the fire department wants to create pre-fire plans for commercial buildings and nightly lodging rentals. The department is also interested in creating plans for homes whose residents might need extra assistance in the event of an emergency. He says knowing if someone will need extra help ahead of time increases the ability of emergency responders to get the assistance they need quickly.

“We have rescue. We have extra firefighters who can go and assist. Rather than getting the ambulance there, then having to put that page out and having an additional ten minutes before we can get that person in the ambulance, if we know from page-out, we can have someone there in five to ten minutes.”

A few of the walkthroughs will likely this winter, with the bulk coming next summer. Eric Chappel says the pre-fire plan is not a fire inspection. Firefighters conducting the walkthroughs will not be able to determine whether a building is safe. He says they are simply looking for information that will help in the event of a fire or other emergency. Chappel says there is one thing that the department encourages businesses to do as part of pre-fire planning.

“One recommendation that we do have is that businesses have a Knox Box. A Knox Box is usually a brown metal box that’s secured that contains access to the business, so keys, codes, things like that.”

Chief Chappel says the Knox Box logs whenever an emergency responder accesses the keys or codes inside, and that they may only be utilized in case of an emergency. One upside to the Knox Box, according to Chappel, is the ability to get inside a building without having to forcibly enter.

“Somebody in the community hears an alarm going off inside, and we can’t get ahold of the business owner. Rather than breaking down the door, we can have keys to walk in and make sure…we’re not breaking their door to gain entry.”

If a significant number of property owners complete pre-fire plans, Chappel says it would help with Talkeetna’s Insurance Service Office rating. That score is based on a number of factors, and is part of the equation when insurance companies consider premiums for covering a building.

Other things that boost ISO ratings are equipment upgrades and training. Chief Chappel says the Talkeetna Fire Department is making improvements in those areas as well. He says the department currently has sixteen responders, and Chappel credits former chief Eric Denkewalter for boosting the department’s numbers in the last two years.

According to Chappel, the department is also planning for significant equipment upgrades, including the replacement of one of its three fire engines.

“There’ll be a new engine replacing one of those 1984 engines. And then we’ll be upgrading a lot of the equipment on the trucks to newer standards, upgrading a lot of my firefighters’ gear that they wear to newer standards.”

While the department has grown, Chief Chappel says he hopes to bring the number of responders up to about twenty-five. The Talkeetna Fire Department is starting a recruiting drive, and hopes to have enough people for a paid training course this spring. He says those interested in either creating a pre-fire plan should call the station at 861-3663 or email Lt. Dan Adamson at [email protected]

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