State and local briefly

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Village needs fire truck replacement

UNALASKA - The Pribilof Island village of Saint Paul is working toward getting an emergency airlift of a fire truck to replace one that was damaged in last month's fatal house fire.

Insufficient fire protection is yet another problem for a community that was hit hard by the collapse of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery and the worst winter weather in decades.

City Manager John Merculief said the city's only fire truck is in rough shape after the fire that killed Irene Suskuk and her three young children in the Russian Orthodox church parsonage in December.

St. Paul has located a used fire truck in Eugene, Ore. Merculief is hoping that the Coast Guard or the Alaska Air National Guard will fly the fire engine to the island in a C-130 transport plane because the harbor is iced in.

The fire truck's water tank was damaged, and the vehicle's motor is not working properly after 12 hours of pumping in a blizzard the week before Christmas.

Merculief said the city doesn't dare try to make any major repairs in case a fire breaks out with a disassembled fire truck unable to respond. St. Paul can't afford a $90,000 commercial air freight bill - especially with the city seeking a state disaster declaration because of the crash of the snow crab fishery, Merculief said.

The fire hazards have increased with the arrival colder weather, especially with residents using heat tape to prevent pipes from freezing in subzero temperatures. The lack of qualified heating technicians adds to the village's problems of keeping warm, with the village experiencing what Merculief calls the coldest winter since the mid-1970s. He was reporting wind-chills to 47 degrees below zero.

St. Paul is a major Bering Sea crab processing and vessel service hub, and the snow crab fishery alone accounts for 70 percent of local revenues, Merculief said.

The fishery has been postponed until at least April 1 because of sea ice covering much of the crab grounds.

The community has enough fuel to get through the winter, but the delay of crab fishing means fewer jobs to help residents buy heating oil at $1.78 a gallon.

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