Upgrading a Fire Department
Anchorage solves problems of climate, frontier frame construction and rapid population growth
From Class 9 to Class 4 in Six Years . . .
PRIOR TO LAST SUMMER, many persons in the States thought of Alaska as a land of igloos or, at the most, of little interest other than for defense purposes. Alaska’s progress towards statehood has focussed attention on the Territory, and today, more people know more about Alaska than ever before. The struggles, efforts and pride in the (ire protection system of the City of Anchorage may be of particular interest to the readers of FIRE ENGINEERING.
The City of Anchorage, at the extreme northern end of Cooks Inlet, has a population of 32,000 with an estimated 70,000 living in the greater Anchorage area. It has a mayor, council-city manager-type of government, and is one of the most modern cities in the Territory. While it has a minimum of industry, the area has an assessed valuation of over $114 million.
The Anchorage Eire Department has 34 full-paid uniformed personnel and operates three fire stations with modern equipment and vehicles, including a 75foot aerial ladder. Our problems are no different from those of any other community in the United States except for the climate. The temperature range from 30 degrees below zero in the winter to 80 above in the summer does create unusual problems not generally met in the States.
The winter cold makes necessary antifreezing protection of the water system. To avoid frost penetration, mains are placed below the 10-foot level. Many cities in the Territory use anti-freeze in the hydrant mechanism, but this is not required in Anchorage. In some northern cities the mains are placed above ground and are not flooded until water is needed. Other cities provide constant steam heat to protect the mains, but Anchorage is fortunate in this regard.
The city has installed three water wells, each with a capacity of 5,700 gpm, to supplement its normal supply. These wells are very useful since the water in them has a temperature of approximately 37 degrees when distributed through the system, and has a tendency to relieve freezing. The water system has a Grade 3 rating by the Board of Underwriters of the Pacific.
There are a few sections of Anchorage not protected by the water system and therefore individual property wells are common. Providing fire protection for these areas requires the use of tank trucks with auxiliary pumps. These units normally carry 700 to 1,000 gallons of water. During the winter, these auxiliary pumps must be started prior to leaving the fire station to prevent the pump from freezing en route to the fire. A water tank truck is often used independently of other vehicles but frequently acts as the water supply to the pumpers.
Hose lines are never completely shut down during winter operations as even the smallest ice formation at the nozzle tip will start a chain reaction resulting in the freezing of the hose back to the hydrant and down the barrel to the main. After each use, the hydrant barrel is thawed and drained so as to be immediately available for further use.
Another problem peculiar to Anchorage is that most of its construction in the past has been of wood frame, so typical of a frontier town. The average modest home in Anchorage costs between $20,000 and $30,000. Because of this high initial cost and the high cost of building repairs, the city in the past has suffered a high annual fire loss in dollars. Anchorage has made tremendous strides in the past few years, as concrete buildings replace wood frame construction in the high value area and homes are built in accordance with a strict building code.
Perhaps our greatest problem has been the tremendous increase in population and our attempt to keep pace with the lire protection needs. The City of Anchorage has annexed large parcels of land since 1954 which have increased its area from 3.3 square miles to 11 square miles and have complicated the fire protection program. It is anticipated that annexation will continue and that our population will continue to increase in the future.
The population increase has included an increase in the number of children. The department rapidly realized the need for a fire prevention education program for both adults and children. Besides adopting the fire prevention ordinance prescribed by the National Board of Fire Underwriters, this department initiated a highly effective education program in the schools. The Anchorage Fire Department’s fire prevention program has been among the top ten in the nation for the past two years, and has been first in the Territory for five years straight.
Anchorage has been a leader in the Sparky Fire Department promotion, which has been very impressive educationally to the children, thereby reducing the number of annual fire responses caused by them. A weekly television program known as “Sparky’s Fire Department” is sponsored locally by the Anchorage Insurance Agents’ Association with public service time donated by television studio KTVA. The former group contributes $1,200 annually to the fire department specifically for promotion of fire prevention education in the community.
During the past five years this department has conducted home inspections on a year-round basis, and we have found this program most effective in fire prevention and materially helpful in our department-community relations.
In 1949 Anchorage had an insurance rating classification of nine. Within a sixyear period, due to improvements, the
Board of Underwriters of the Pacific and the Pacific Rating Bureau reduced the classification to four. The department was concerted from a volunteer status to a well-trained full-paid fire department. Modern apparatus was purchased, the water system and mains were renovated and a telephone alarm system is to lxinstalled in accordance with Underwriters’ requirements.
The City of Anchorage has run the gauntlet as far as communty problems are concerned and today it is rapidly becoming the most progressive city in the Territory. Its progress has been so pronounced that in 1956 it was selected as one of the 11 “All America Cities” in the nation.