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Juneau's firefighters serve in a challenging profession

Posted: March 23, 2013 - 11:00pm
Members of Capital City Fire/Rescue are seen fighting a live blaze during a firefighting drill last fall.  Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Emily Russo Miller / Juneau Empire
Members of Capital City Fire/Rescue are seen fighting a live blaze during a firefighting drill last fall.

Do you know who your firefighters are?

Most people don’t, until the worst day of their lives. When your house is burning down. Or when you crash your car. Or when your spouse has a heart attack.

The 115 men and women working for Capital City Fire/Rescue are ready at a moment’s notice to respond to your emergency, whatever it may be, by providing emergency medical services, fire fighting services or performing special rescues.

“It takes a special breed of person to help somebody, or go into a burning building or to see a stranger in pain and go and help them out,” Assistant Fire Chief Ed Quito said.

That’s why the department says it would like to take this opportunity to thank all the hardworking men and women of CCFR who dedicate their days to saving lives, and to recognize them all by name in the newspaper.

It’s also a chance for citizens of Juneau to see if they know someone on the list of names, and if they wish, to thank them for their service.

“Not everybody knows who the members are,” Quinto said.

CCFR is staffed by 33 career (paid) firefighters, about 72 volunteers and 10 administrators. All the firefighters are certified EMTs.

The department operates out of five fire stations in the downtown area, Douglas, Glacier (near the airport), Auke Bay and Lynn Canal. CCFR covers all 3,248 square miles in the City and Borough of Juneau, including 386 miles on Douglas Highway.

CCFR also provides medevac services to and from surrounding Juneau communities, such as Angoon, Bartlett Cove, Elfin Cove, Excursion Inlet, Haines, Hoonah, Skagway and Tenakee Springs.

Quinto lauded firefighters for continuously training to be on top of their game. Career firefighters are required to perform a minimum of 240 hours a year in training to maintain their skill set. Volunteers also have to continuously pass evaluations for core competency, and they are evaluated every quarter on their skills, including handling fire hoses and ladders.

Being a firefighter takes enormous dedication. Being a volunteer firefighter is even that much more demanding since they also hold down full-time jobs in addition to working for CCFR, Quinto said.

“Volunteers have a full-time job, and they still come in and dedicate numerous hours to fire department,” Quinto said. “Plus, they come in at least once a week for drills.”

And, as CCFR points out on its website, the days of “hanging around the fire house waiting for a fire” are long gone. The department receives calls day and night and are constantly responding to emergencies.

“When people say fire fighters get to sleep at fire station, that is a misnomer now,” Quinto said. “We’re a busy fire department.”

Last year, CCFR responded to a total of 3,570 calls for service. Of those, 2,620 were medical calls, 98 were fire calls and 268 were false alarm fire calls. CCFR also responded to 584 miscellaneous calls ranging from responses to fuel spills, downed power lines and aircraft related calls.

Because Juneau is landlocked, the fire department must be entirely self-sufficient and ready to respond to any type of emergency.

“We’re a community that cannot rely on any other communities to help us, like down south,” Quinto said.

That’s why CCFR has special teams, which is led by Captain George Reifenstein, a 39-year CCFR veteran. Special teams includes a HAZMAT team, a rope rescue team, and a water rescue team.

Quinto says CCFR’s staffing numbers are “good and strong” right now, but they are always recruiting new members. The department hosts a fire academy each year to certify new firefighters. The five-month long academy, which is taught by Fire Training Officer Nathan Young, is in full swing right now with 15 new recruits striving to become certified by the state. The recruits are scheduled to graduate in May.

CCFR also maintains its volunteer levels by hosting a live-in firefighter program for university students. The students join the department, live at the fire station and become EMTs and firefighters. In return, they are reimbursed with tuition. That program is made possible by a grant.

For all the CCFR firefighters who serve Juneau, Quinto says thank you, and encourages you to do the same.

“Thank the firefighters,” he said. “Without the firefighters, we cannot survive tragic events in Juneau. We’re here to help each other out.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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