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Fire Department Close To Reaching Fundraising Goal For New Ambulance As Call Volume Rises

Dean Swope

Two big donations mean that the Bethel Firefighters and EMTs  are close to meeting their fundraising goals for another ambulance.

As of Thursday, the Bethel Fire Department had raised $211,000 toward their $255,000 goal.  That means they only need $44,000 more.

“I suspect that we’ll be, with the way the funds are being raised and the momentum that we built, I suspect that we’ll be able to make a purchase sometime in November," said Howell.

That’s Bethel Fire Chief Bill Howell. He says that means a new, fully loaded ambulance could arrive around August or September of 2017. Right now they are using two ambulances, averaging about 15 years old, that are in need of more and more repairs. Howell says that they are already halfway through this year's maintenance budget for the machines.

This is at a time when calls for service are on the rise. In a trend that has been building for the last six or seven years, Howell says that the fire department responded to a record 1,182 calls for service last year, and is already closing in on that number again.

“So right now we’re at 1,123 calls. We’re probably seeing about 10 to 15 percent higher overall call volume than this time last year, but we don’t know exactly what’s causing that at this time," said Howell.

Bethel voted to remove alcohol importation restrictions in 2010, but local sales were still restricted through the Bethel City Council’s protest. Bethel held another advisory vote in 2015, and residents chose to support legal alcohol sales in town. This year, for the first time in decades, two liquor stores opened up and a restaurant was licensed to sell beer and wine.

Howell says with the fund-raising goal in sight, they’re looking to future needs.

“The problems continue. I think the new ambulance will help resolve a lot of that, but we’ll still have a 13 year old ambulance in our fleet," said Howell.

Not only that, they have two 36-year-old fire engines: a 50 foot ladder truck, and a 1,500 gallon tanker, both manufactured in 1980.

“The ladder truck, though, specifically has reached the end of it life. Parts are becoming incredibly difficult to find or completely obsolete, and we’re just recently learned that it’s no longer functioning as well or at all as it should be. The ladder is not extending or elevating as it should be," said Howell.

Credit Charles Enoch / KYUK
This fire truck, which belongs to the Bethel Fire Department, is 36 years old and the ladder doesn't fully function anymore.

This means that if tall structures catch fire, the department won’t be able to get firefighters and equipment to upper levels.

The new donations boosted the fundraising campaign by close to a $100,000.  $35,000 of that came from Donlin Gold.  Tom Buchanan, the Barrick Gold Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, says it's clear the community wants this, so Donlin stepped forward when the fire department came to them.

“This is something the community recognizes a need for. It’s a vital resource; emergency medical resources are critical. It could be any of our families at any time that require them," said Buchanan.

And another $50,000 came from the Bethel Lions Club, which held a ceremony on Thursday for a donation they made last week. Jon Cochrane is the president of the Winter House, which partners with the Lions Club and the Salvation Army to provide shelter during the winter for the homeless in the community. He says that they are glad to help out again.

“We were able to support their last ambulance effort with a $65,000 donation. It was really nice to be able to come up with another $50,000 to help them this time around," said Cochrane.

Howell says they expect to start applying for grants in the near future to replace their other ambulance and their ladder truck. 

To donate to the Medic 6 fundraiser click here.


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