HazMat Team Spotlight: Anchorage Fire Department

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Anchorage is the largest city in the state of Alaska, composing more than two-fifths (42-percent) of the state's population. Anchorage is located in south central Alaska and is about as far north as Stockholm, Sweden or St. Petersburg, Russia and as far west as Hawaii. It lies 290 miles northeast of Kodiak Island, 130 miles south of Mount McKinley, and it is on the upper branches of the Cook Inlet, the northernmost reach of the Pacific Ocean. It is bordered on the east by Chugach Mountain State Park. Anchorage stretches from Portage Glacier to Eklutna, encompassing 1,955 square miles - about the size of the state of Delaware. Because of the location of mountain ranges it is only possible to drive north or south out of Anchorage.

The Anchorage Fire Department is a career department with 391 uniformed personnel led by Chief Craig Goodrich. The City of Anchorage has a population of approximately 277,000 and covers an area of 100 square miles inside the "Anchorage Bowl". The Anchorage Bowl consists of the main populated areas within the municipality including the hillside areas that together are somewhat bowl shaped but not including Eagle River to the north. The bowl is primarily the portion that most visitors would think is the City of Anchorage without knowing that much of the park and uninhabited lands were also part of the city. Volunteer fire departments cover the outlying areas of Anchorage. EMS coverage provided by the Anchorage Fire Department encompasses the entire 1,955 square miles of the city. Mutual Aid agreements exist between the Anchorage Fire Department, Ted Stevens International Airport Aircraft/Rescue/Fire, Elmendorf Air Force Base Fire Department, Fort Richardson Fire Department, Girdwood Volunteer Fire Department and Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department.

Anchorage, as with most cities in the United States, began with a volunteer fire department organized in 1915. Over the years the department evolved into a combination paid/volunteer department boasting 50 personnel by 1951 when they started providing ambulance service. Finally, in 1967, seven volunteer fire departments merged into the fully paid Greater Anchorage Borough Fire Department. The area wide paramedic program began in 1971. Governmental unification occurred in 1975 when the City of Anchorage and the Greater Anchorage Borough unified to become the Municipality of Anchorage. The Anchorage Fire Department operates 13 engine companies, five truck companies, one rescue, five water tankers, eight medic units and 12 specialty vehicles from 13 stations located throughout the city. The city is divided into three battalions with a chief over each. EMS paramedic transport service is provided by the Anchorage Fire Department. Seven engine companies provide non-transport basic life support (BLS) and are equipped with a semi-automatic defibrillator to enhance response to cardiac emergencies. Five engine companies provide non-transport advanced life support (ALS) services. The department has 66 trained firefighter/paramedics. Additional services are provided with special teams including dive, foam, hazmat, mountain and water rescue. Personnel for specialty teams are provided from other in-service companies when needed.

Anchorage officially formed their hazardous materials team and placed it in service in 1982 when several members showed an interest in the emerging field of hazmat response. The hazardous materials team responds to an average of 112 hazardous materials calls a year with an additional 478 alarms for gas detection monitoring. Statistics for hazmat responses do include local engine runs for hydrocarbon fuel spills and natural gas leaks. Engine companies carry absorbents for fuel spills and clean-up. The Anchorage Hazardous Materials Team covers the entire 1,955-square-mile city and is available to respond anywhere needed in the State of Alaska. The team is known as the "Pride of Alaska". The city is also home to two military installations, Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson Army Base, which have their own fire protection, EMS and hazardous materials response units.

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