Homer Volunteer Fire Department has started a remodeling project to improve their Pioneer Avenue building.
Fire Chief Bob Painter says the project has been underway for about two weeks. He says the remodel is the result of two and half years of planning.
The $1,000,000 project was funded by the City of Homer after the department was removed from the plans for a new public safety building.
“The price tag just got too high. So they came to me, the public safety building committee and the city came and said, ‘what do we need to do to the existing fire station to make it usable for the next 15 years plus,” said Painter.
The answer was, a lot. Original flooring will be replaced; a diesel exhaust removal system installed, and concrete floors in the fire truck bays re-done, among other things.
Homer Fire Department is a combination department. They have about 30 volunteers, five full-time staff and two seasonal employees. Painter says the department’s call volume has increased over the past decade and he estimates they will likely respond to around 700 calls this year.
One additional improvement that Painter is pleased about is that new bunk rooms that will be added upstairs to house volunteers.
“We are going to add 2,000 square feet of additional living space. And that is going to incorporate, right now the plan is calling for five bunk rooms. These are going to be individual bunk rooms that volunteers can live in around the clock. And we are hoping to partner maybe with the college or with students that have firefighter one maybe EMT and part of the room and board will be responding to calls when they are not otherwise engaged in study or work,” said Painter.
Painter says the building was last improved during a 1995 seismic retrofit.
The department had two other reasons to celebrate this week. First, the City of Homer received a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant through Homeland Security for an assistant fire chief at the Department. Painter says the grant is needed.
“When I’m on vacation or I’m injured or on sick leave or just gone or unavailable for training there is really nobody who can step into the role of Fire Chief without having an Assistant Chief,” said Painter.
The goal of SAFER grants is to enhance the ability of recipients to attain and maintain 24-hour fire department staffing, and to assure that their communities have adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards.
It is a two year grant that fully funds an assistant chief position; something that has been unheard of for many years due to budget constraints.
The grant first has to be officially accepted by the Homer City Council, which will take two meetings.
Also this week – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office on Monday delivered a new ambulance to Chief Painter in Anchorage. They own two older ambulances, but the new ones meet federal standards.
“The patient on the rolled stretcher, what we call a gurney, the new hardware that holds that gurney to the floor of the ambulance has to be crash-tested to new federal standards. And that insures that if we are involved in some type of a crash that the patient will be safely on that stretcher even if the ambulance were to do a complete roll,” said Painter.
One of the old ambulances will be relocated to the Skyline Station which is set to open this fall along with an engine and hazmat trailer.
The total cost of the ambulance was $175,000. USDA-RD Alaska approved the $25,000 funding in August 2015. The State of Alaska supplied $70,000 and the City of Homer picked up the remaining approximately $80,000.