Anchorage plans to cut back rescue teams, services

State Troopers to take over rescues as city deals with budget woes

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010

ANCHORAGE - Alaska State Troopers will take over some of the Anchorage Fire Department's rescue duties as the department cuts back its services because of the city's budget problems.

Mayor Dan Sullivan said the state agency will now perform wilderness and Cook Inlet rescues, but the city department will offer support and coordination.

Capt. Tom Wescott, president of Anchorage's firefighters union, said its members can adapt to some of the cuts, but the public will notice the changes.

"If you climb Flattop (Mountain) and you break your leg three-fourths of the way up, how do you get down?" he asked. "Since I've been in the Fire Department, the Fire Department went up and got you, whether they carried you or took you to a spot where a helicopter could come in."

To save $150,000, the department's wilderness rescue team will be eliminated, and special teams such as hazardous materials specialists, swift-water rescuers, climbing specialists and the dive team will be scaled back, he said this week.

Sullivan said he chose to reduce the specialty teams rather than cut the department's core functions.

"We could have laid off front-line personnel. We could have kept rolling (station) closures going. But our commitment was to front-line fire safety," he said.

Troopers are responsible for rescues statewide anyway, the mayor said.

"You're talking about a state budget with billions of dollars of surplus this year. You're talking about a city budget that has to cut tens of millions of dollars," Sullivan said.

State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said the agency works with Anchorage, the military and volunteer organizations on rescues. She said troopers often are first to a rescue near Anchorage because they have aircraft and the city does not.

The state does not foresee any increased costs "because we already do this stuff," she said.

Restoring the department services would be a top priority if the city's money situation improves, Sullivan said.

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