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Story Last modified at 6:02 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Chugiak firefighters to be honored at picnic

BY JOHN MITCHELL
For the Star

photo:News

Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department volunteers listen to kudos directed at them at the 2010 annual Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department appreciation potluck at the United Methodist Church of Chugiak. This year's event is free and open to the public. It will be held at 11:30 a.m. June 26 at the church, off the Old Glenn Highway.
Photo courtesy John Mitchell

In anticipation of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department Appreciation Potluck on June 26, I interviewed Gary Davis, a Chugiak resident and long-time firefighter and United Methodist Church of Chugiak member, to learn more about those we will be honoring. With the emergency radio crackling in the background, Gary and I had a wide-ranging conversation about his years of firefighting and rescue experiences and service.

John Mitchell: Tell me something about your volunteer firefighting service.

Gary Davis: Well, I'm from New York and was with the Nyack Volunteer Fire Department for 17 years. I've lived in Chugiak since 1984 ... and joined the fire department here at that time ... about 27 years now.

JM: You were once the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department fire chief, right?

GD: Yeah — I retired from that back in 2004 but still volunteer. I'm now a senior captain and pull call when I'm home.

JM: It takes time become a qualified volunteer.

GD: Oh yeah; after a background check, someone wanting to join has to take Firefighting 1 (about 160 hours of training and testing) and EMT 1. And that's just for getting started. Then there's Firefighting 2 and more advanced EMT courses.

JM: You wear two hats.

GD: We do. Every volunteer is a firefighter and a medic. About 70 percent to 80 percent of our calls are for medical reasons; about 20 percent for fires.

JM: What motivated you to volunteer – and stay with it all of these years?

GD: Oh, I don't know, I guess it's the same as someone volunteering over at the (Eagle River) Food Pantry ... just wanting to get involved in the community. Be a part of it.

JM: The Chugiak fire stations are named after people. Could you tell me a little about that?

GD: Sure. Station 31(Latimer) was named for Max Latimer, the first fire chief and co-founder of the Chugiak Fire Department. Station 32 (Gilmore) was named for Cliff Gilmore who served as chief and has been with the department for nearly four decades – and still serves. Station 33 (Hill), for Linda Hill who died in a car accident on the way to a training class. Station 34 (Wallace) was named for two brothers, Art and Til, who were with the department for a long time and Station 35 (Lowe) was named for Bill Lowe who died in a car accident on the Old Glenn .... He was on the CVFD Board of Supervisors for about 20 years before he passed away. It's quite a legacy.

Appreciation Potluck

The Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department Appreciation Potluck will be held at 11:30 a.m. June 26 at the United Methodist Church of Chugiak, 16430 Old Glenn Highway. Bring a dish to share. There will be live music by Ginger Boatwright and activities outside, weather permitting. Free and open to everyone. www.umcchugiak.org

JM: Are there any specific emergency calls or incidents over the years that stand out in your memory?

GD: Oh, not really. There was the Big Lake Fire back in '95. Some of us spent up to two weeks working that one. About 300 structures were lost in that disaster. Accidents on the Glenn can always make things interesting .... We call it the "rollover capital of the world."

JM: Big Lake is a long way from Chugiak.

GD: Sometimes the state calls us up to help with forest fires and the like.

JM: Sounds like your training takes you beyond putting out building fires.

GD: Yeah, we're trained in wild land fire fighting and we get calls now and then in the Chugiak area to put out fires in the wooded areas. And there is a lot of forest in Chugiak.

JM: CVFD has ambulances, fire trucks – just a variety of vehicles and equipment. How is all of this purchased?

GD: Chugiak property owners pay a mill levy for fire protection. We save this and pay cash for all of the equipment. There is no debt. We also get a few grants from the State of Alaska that really helps us out.

JM: Are you looking for more volunteers?

GD: We're always looking for good people willing to dedicate a lot of their personal time and energy to training. And then being willing to volunteer around their work schedules. It's very demanding. This being Alaska, we do have some turnover and a need for new people from time to time. Anyone interested can look at our website. (www.cvfrd.com)

JM: You have a program for youth who have an interest, yes?

GD: Yes we do. High School kids 14 and older who live in Chugiak can join the Junior Firefighter program and receive some training and come along occasionally on emergency calls.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.