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Houston Fire Department says they need upgrade

By Heather Hintze 8:48 PM January 15, 2014

City wants $3.6 million to build a new substation

ANCHORAGE - The Houston Fire Department said it can’t meet the needs of the growing community in the Mat-Su Valley unless its substation gets an upgrade.

The city requested $3.6 million from the Alaska Legislature to build a new facility and buy a ladder truck.

When you look at the substation, it’s not hard to see why the department needs the money.

“There’s no bathroom facility, no water at all,” said Fire Chief Thomas Hood. “No training area, no office-type area where we could get people to come here. That’s part of a volunteer system is having people hang out at the department. There’s none of that.”

The one-room building is barely big enough for the water tanker. It was initially built as a sewage treatment facility. The city spent $132,000 about four years ago to fix up the substation.

“It’s a very tight fit in here for firefighters to come in, it’s unsafe in my opinion,” Hood said. “The safety aspect of this fire truck being in here and firefighters coming here at two or three in the morning to respond to a call. They could get hurt out here.”

With the population expected to continue to grow, said Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson, a better substation means better service for the residents.

“This area is growing so much, that the infrastructure in the Valley is huge. And as it continues to build, we need to start worrying about how can we help the people? How can we make it safe for them to be here?” Thompson said.

Hood said the upgrades are crucial to keeping the surrounding schools safe. Houston High School and Houston Middle School are just a mile from the substation. If there was a major emergency, however, it’s not well enough equipped to handle it alone.

“Right now to get a ladder truck out of Wasilla would take quite a while to get out here,” Hood said. “And Su-Valley, we all know what happened there.”

Su-Valley High School burned to the ground in 2007 due to a slow response time.  It took the nearest ladder truck in Wasilla too long to get there. If Houston had had one, it could have been there at least half an hour sooner.

Hood said this shows how critical response time can be because fires double in size every minute.

“It devastated them pretty well up there … the loss of their school, their community,” he said. “The kids had nowhere to go. It was a long process to get them back up to where they are now. I’d never want to see our schools go down here like that. That’s what we’re trying to do is get better prepared to protect.”

This year Houston’s ISO insurance rating was upgraded from an 8b to a 5 because of its continued efforts to improve the fire department. The better and faster access homes have to water, the better the rating.

The chief said a new substation would help Houston keep the 5 rating with the addition of a new ladder truck. He said that ultimately saves the city about a half-million dollars a year in taxes.

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