By Melinda Munson
A fire reported Nov. 11 at approximately 11:20 a.m. on 22nd Avenue, destroyed an unoccupied trailer home in the process of being winterized.
“The guy that’s working on the house said that three hours ago he started the furnace … And came back to this,” Skagway Police Chief Jerry Reddick told KHNS.
Water and smoke poured from the house as firefighters fought the flames from outside of the structure.
“Due to there being no life threat, and the level of certification of our membership, an exterior and defensive attack with seven firefighters was initiated,” said Interim Fire Chief Emily Rauscher.
Rauscher declined to comment on any specifics, such as the length of time it took the fire to be extinguished, until the investigation is completed. She said neighbors were not asked to evacuate the area during the incident.
The Skagway Fire Department has struggled the past year with low volunteer numbers, the retirement of former chief Joe Rau and the resignations of employees Paul Meyers and Rick Ackerman. The department is also currently undergoing an independent audit. The results of that audit will be presented in an assembly of the whole meeting, Nov. 22, 7 p.m. at city hall.
According to Rauscher, the department lost its FF1 accreditation about 10 years ago, which means FF1 accreditation can’t be taught in-house. FF1 certification is one of several requirements needed to fight fires from within a structure. There are only a few people in Skagway with FF1 certification. Rauscher said the department is working on “building that accreditation.”
(Another requirement for entering a burning building is to be clean-shaven so the mask can maintain a tight seal, keeping out carcinogenic particles.)
The interim chief is happy with a recent recruitment campaign. She said there are a “huge number of volunteers stepping up” and the numbers keep “growing daily.”
The department recently welcomed two emergency hires: Austin Taylor and Roy Johnston. Taylor is in charge of getting recruits familiar with the ambulance while Johnston, a retired fire captain, is tasked with organizing fire training.
Rauscher said Skagway’s mostly volunteer fire department has always had a problem holding onto recruits. “They’ll get their certification and they’ll leave,” she said. Rauscher is hoping to cultivate a “culture where they can stay here and grow.”
Even with the rise in new recruits, the fire department is still searching for more members.
“We are looking for more volunteers and we are looking for people to apply regardless of skill set,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan.
Rauscher, Taylor, Deputy Chief Wayne Greenstreet, Rick Ackerman, Sarina Jones, Greg Kollasch and Shane Rupprecht responded to the Nov. 11 blaze.