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Bethel Fire Department On Track To Raise Enough Funds For New Ambulance

Katie Basile

The Bethel Fire Department is using ambulances that have lasted twice their recommended service times. As call volumes increase in the Kuskokwim hub community, the department is on track to order their new ambulance by winter. 

That means a new ambulance won't arrive in Bethel until the end of next summer. In the meantime, the Bethel Fire Department is making do with two ambulances that average about 15 years old, although the recommended service length for one of the machines is seven years. Bethel Fire Chief Bill Howell says that they try to take good care of the ambulances, but it’s becoming apparent that they are pretty old.

“What we’re seeing, though, with some of our older diesel ambulances is that we're just getting declining returns out of them. They’re continuously breaking down month after month and it’s beginning to, or it has, impacted our ability to respond to emergencies. There have been a couple of different occasions; thank god they were not serious or really severe calls," said Howell.

Howell says that there have been more and more calls in recent years. In 2011 they had 886 calls for service. Last year they had 1182 calls, the highest in 25 years.

“This year we’re on track to beat that, so we should be, if the current call volume continues as it is, we’ll beat last year’s record call numbers pretty handily," said Howell.

As of Thursday, well into PFD season, the Bethel Fire Department had 1071 calls and counting. They receive around five to eight calls for service every night. It's been decades since Bethel has had a liquor store, but Howell says that it’s too early to tell if the increasing call volumes are connected to the two liquor stores that opened this year. 

Howell says that there is hope on the horizon, however. They began their fundraising around June with the goal of raising $255,000 for a new ambulance. As of this week, they have made over $170,000 thanks to regional residents. Howell says that there are too many community members who have chipped in to name.

“We just recently received a $14,500 donation from the VFW Auxiliary. We received a $50,000 donation from the Bethel Lions Club. Then we’ve also partnered with a number of different businesses in Bethel to do fundraising, the AC store for instance," said Howell, just to name a few.

The fire department currently doesn’t have plans for fundraisers in the near future, but for National Fire Prevention Week this Saturday, fire and EMT personnel will be attending the Saturday Market at the Cultural Center in Bethel. They will be testing smoke alarms, replacing batteries, and selling discount smoke detectors, but it’s not a fundraiser for the ambulance.

Howell says that there will be more donation requests in the future. He hopes they will be able to order the new ambulance by December of this year, just in time to get it on the last barge of the summer in 2017. Until then, Howell and his crew will keep the engines running as best they can and wait for the next call for help.