The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
For The LOG 

Fire department moves into new territory


Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

A former garage, originally built for the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department, nears its new home at the corner of Nash Road and Old Nash Road. The building was rescued from demolition and moved to the new location by Greenstreet House Movers.

The dust has barely settled after the old Bear Creek fire station was leveled Monday, a little over a month after the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department made its move to a new multi-million dollar facility sharing the same property along the Seward Highway two miles north of Seward city limits.

The move was accompanied by an understandable amount of nostalgia that was highlighted in an open house Saturday at the soon to be demolished home of the BCVFD, as dozens gathered for the last time at the 33-year-old firehouse.

Original, former and long-time members of the department including founding fire chief Leonard Weimar, current fire chief Mark Beals, Michael Mchone and Kent Berklund were among the notable figures reminiscing in groups out in front of the old fire station Saturday.

On Monday at 12:44 p.m., demolition began as Marsh Creek project superintendent Chad Munger took the controls of a large excavator and took the first swipe at the building. After a couple bites at the side, he turned the machine over to operator Richard Stockton of North Star Paving who reduced the building to rubble in less than an hour.

Like another public facility, the former AVTEC dorms, much of the structure was not salvageable because of a lack of interested qualified parties who might have been able to meet the contractor's liability concerns. However, an adjacent garage and storage facility was successfully picked up and moved down the road the previous week by a house moving company.

Much to the chagrin of some volunteers of the BCVFD, an 11th hour appeal to Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre to stop the removal of the building was too late. The contractor had already arranged with local businessman Rolf Bardarson to remove the structure and Bardarson had purchased property based on the deal.

The department is also experiencing other growing pains as the BCVFD volunteers engage in ongoing negotiations with the KPB over a new contract. According to a board member of the nonprofit corporation at the heart of the BCVFD, discussion about a more concrete relationship with the borough is challenging to the volunteers.

It's this nonprofit that has been, until recently, largely allowed to manage the personnel and facilities of BCVFD in concert with oversight provide by the Bear Creek Fire and Emergency Service Area board of directors. The new contract is intended to create a fire service more closely related to central management at the borough.

Increasingly since 2004, KPB has been concentrating on reforming borough boards among the various service areas in a push toward conformity. Through the passage of KPB ordinances, these changes have been justified by the need to maintain recognized standards of service. Language in KPB Ordinance 2004-12 explained the need to amend borough code as a simplification of inconsistent application of borough authority.

In 2010, a minor controversy arose in Anchor Point over what some in that community saw as arbitrary changes and the imposition of borough structure at the cost of local input and control. Concerns about volunteer safety as well liability and exposure for the borough were cited as justification for top down changes in that borough fire service area.

Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

A large excavator makes quick work of levelling the old BCVFD fire station building, with about half of the structure down within 20 minutes. The demolition took about an hour, starting during the noon hour on Monday.

These concerns on the part of the borough are also the subtext of a current push to bring BCVFD management directly into the chain of command of the KPB, ultimately with the goal of bringing the volunteers solely under a borough-employed fire chief. At present the BCVFD fire chief is a volunteer position while the borough employs an office administrator and training captain.

BCVFD members as well as the BCFESA board are researching and discussing alternatives to the borough's objectives, arguing that a cookie cutter approach isn't a good fit for the distant, smaller service area. According to fire chief Beals, restructuring the volunteer's nonprofit may provide an avenue to retaining limited local autonomy, provided that the borough mayor's office and KPB assembly sign off on this different relationship.

As the volunteers deliberate over a new contract and a possible alternative management structure, contractor Marsh Creek is finishing up the final touches on the property itself. With remaining light poles and landscaping due to be completed by the end of next week, soon there will be no sign of the old Bear Creek fire station.


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