Coast Guard Fire and Rescue always ready in Kodiak, Alaska
Posted by PA3 Jonathan Klingenberg, Friday, February 15, 2013
The men and women of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue at Base Kodiak stand ready to respond to a myriad of emergency situation at a moment’s notice. Every member, from the new firefighter to the Fire Chief, is required to be at least a first level emergency medical technician and they train regularly to meet this requirement.
EMT1 is the basic level of emergency medicine. Personnel on that level can administer low risk drugs and perform basic life-saving techniques. The Firehouse is also an advance life support department, meaning that a portion of the crew meets advanced life-saving protocols and the crewmembers trained as third level emergency medical technicians possess advanced life-saving skills that extend beyond basic life support.
Kodiak is a fairly isolated island community with a population of about 14,000 people. Most of the human population is concentrated in the northeastern end of the island. In any place where there is a concentration of people accidents can happen and health issues arise often.
Bill St. Clair, an assistant fire chief at Base Kodiak, explains that the crew members at the firehouse keep up with physical training as well because the rugged terrain of Kodiak can add to the difficulty of an emergency situation.
Last summer, a hiker was stranded on Barometer Mountain with her family. At an elevation of 2,500 feet she slipped and injured her ankle. A Coast Guard Fire and Rescue response team hiked their way up the steep terrain to her, carrying medical supplies, splinted her ankle and waited with her until a Coast Guard rescue helicopter crew was able to extract her from the mountain and deliver her to emergency medical crews on the ground at Air Station Kodiak. The helicopter was met by an ambulance crew from the City of Kodiak Fire Department, who manages the only ambulance service on the island, and more Coast Guard Fire and Rescue personnel who oversaw her transfer from the helicopter to the ambulance alongside their city counterparts.
“The main point of all the training that we do is repetition,” said St. Clair. “It’s to build that muscle memory, and it’s to do these drills so often that when we have an emergency it just clicks and our crew starts doing the work as if on auto-pilot.”
St. Clair explained that all of the EMT1 training is done in-house, and there are EMT instructors that give recurring training to all members of the firehouse.
“Whenever we give an initial class or a recertification we will actually fly someone in from off island that belongs to a different
agency to give that training,” said St. Clair. “It validates all of the practice that we have done here.”
The training provided at the firehouse is not solely for members of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue, members of Coast Guard Base Kodiak and other interested parties in Kodiak City have also received basic first aid training from the crew.
“Recently we did CPR training for the Coast Guard aids to navigation team, communications station and the electronic system support detachment,” said St. Clair. “We are more than willing to help out any of the commands that ask for training, because the more training we do with other folks, the better it is for our customers.”
As first responders however, proficiency in EMT training is just one of the many skills required of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue in Kodiak.
“Overall we cover the entire base for fire protection,” said St. Clair. “We do inspections of all housing units on base every year. We are inside every house checking every fire extinguisher, smoke detector and making sure that the occupants understand how to use them and are safe.”
St. Clair explains that on a monthly rotation they are doing the same exact inspections to the facilities on base, as well as providing training for the personnel that occupy those spaces, making sure that the fire exits are safe and life-safety codes are properly met.
At the end of the day, Coast Guard Fire and Rescue has to be more prepared than most other fire houses in the continental United States due to the terrain and their close proximity to both the state airport, Base Kodiak and the vast forested areas of Kodiak. Members of Coast Guard Fire and Rescue are versed in structural, shipboard, aviation and wild land firefighting.
Due to the remote nature of Kodiak, Coast Guard Fire and Rescue regularly works with the other fire departments on the island to conduct training and respond to large accidents or fires, providing back up and relief crews. All the response agencies on the island take training and preparedness very seriously because the next closest department is hours away by boat or plane on the mainland in Homer or Anchorage.
“There are a lot of other federal fire departments around where they don’t have to deal with the terrain that we do,” said St. Clair. “They don’t have an ocean; they don’t have cutters, helicopters, or C-130s. So we are here and we are prepared for almost anything that could be thrown our way.”