Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Largest fire service area seeks Fire Marshal

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Wasilla -- The Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area is seeking the State Fire Marshal's authority to enforce fire codes. The Fire Marshal supports the idea. Dennis Brodigan, the Borough's director of Public Safety, told the Assembly at a recent work session that the transfer of authority is a good opportunity. "It shows the maturation of our Emergency Services and Borough as a result of taking on more responsibility and control of fire safety," Brodigan said. Presently the Fire Marshal enforces codes with help from local fire chiefs. This move would grant local authority solely for one fire service area. The Fire Marshal would continue to administer codes in the rest of the Borough. "I'm very supportive," said Wasilla area Assemblywoman Mary Kvalheim. "The State Fire Marshal doesn't have the manpower to do proper inspections. It's also going to help business and property owners by lowering their insurance costs," Kvalheim said. Property owners and developers would not pay any increased fees. The transfer would generate new Borough revenue from existing fees that presently go to the state. The program is expected to collect $270,000 in the first year and be self-sustaining. Most importantly, the transfer of full authority would provide more sophisticated fire prevention and response. Firefighters would ultimately have what's called a pre-fire plan for every commercial building. A pre-fire plan shows the building layout, the hazards, the contact information, and other important information for firefighters. In an emergency, fire officials could get vital information quickly by either referring to a binder or by inserting a compact disc into a computer on their truck. Access points and building materials are laid out for responders who are on scene. Knowing the type of roof trusses, for example, would tell firefighters how long the building will burn before the roof collapses. Presently, only the plans of some school buildings are readily available. Chief of Central MAT-SU Fire Department, Jack Krill Jr., told the Assembly he wished he had a pre-fire plan for Colony High during a recent bomb threat. The pre-fire plan would have enhanced inter-agency response, Krill said. About 150 properties should be getting an annual fire code inspection, but only about 20 percent are, Krill said. With local authority all the commercial properties would get annual inspections. "It means a safer place to work and shop," Krill said. "The real savings is in prevention. "Two credentialed fire code officials, some equipment, and a vehicle would be required. The additional firefighters and the pre-fire plans improve the area's ISO rating, a scale used to calculate insurance premiums. "The rating would likely improve by 2.3 percent, which is huge," Krill said. Incredibly, the better ISO rating is expected to save property owners $1 million to $3 million in insurance costs. As the Chief with fire code authority, Krill said the program would take a customer service approach. "We want to develop a good rapport with developers and business owners so we can work together to prevent fires and injuries in the community," Krill said. "This program is a critical part to our overall fire and life safety mission. "Ten communities in the state have adopted fire code authority locally. Among them, the only community larger than the Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area is Anchorage. Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area is 150 square miles. It runs west beginning at the Trunk Road corridor and includes the City of Wasilla. The area extends south to Knik Goose Bay Road and ends at mile six on Point MacKenzie Road. The Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area Board of Supervisors unanimously approves of the deferment. The City of Wasilla passed a resolution supporting the program. MAT-SU Assembly is considering the idea. Adoption requires the approval of the Assembly. Firefighters want to hear from residents at two meetings: Wed., Jan. 18, from 7-9 p.m. at Fire Station 61, the Central MAT-SU Public Safety Building at 101 W. Swanson Ave in Wasilla; and on Mon., Jan. 23 also at the station at the same time. For more information, contact Central MAT-SU Fire Chief Jack Krill Jr. 373-8805