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Fire Wire: A different department for a different community

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:35 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The community of Salcha is around 30 miles outside of Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway. The roughly 1,000 residents like to keep to themselves and do things differently. According to Fire Chief Tim Biggane, the Salcha Fire and Rescue is no different.

“It is a department that is unlike any other fire department. We don’t run our department off of a tax base, we run our fire department off of a membership base.”

Residents of Salcha who want fire service pay a yearly fee and then if there is a fire, the fire department responds for free. This is different than all the other fire service areas in the Fairbanks North Star Borough that factor the cost of fire service into property taxes.

Biggane said that the subscription doesn’t mean they deny service to anyone. He clarified that they still will come and put the fire out; they just charge an hourly fee for the equipment and firefighters.

Another difference is how heavily the department relies on volunteers.

“We are 99.8% volunteer, I do have a paid guy that’s here, Monday through Friday from 8 to 4 o’clock, but everything else is 100% traditional volunteer from the community,” said Biggane.

The community aspect of Salcha is very important to the department and their volunteers. Ryan Moore lives in Salcha and has been volunteering at the department for around seven years. He said he had never worked at a fire department previously but had always wanted to try it out.

“The big thing I enjoy about volunteering is, it’s being able to help other people, and provide something to the community. I find that incredibly rewarding to be able take somebody, somebody’s day that’s going really poorly and do what I can to make it a much better day,” Moore said.

Even Chief Biggane is a volunteer at the station. Being a nearly all volunteer department and operating on a subscription basis does provide challenges for a budget though.

“Just about everything we can do in house, we do in house, to keep cost down so we can provide a better service to the community. It does result in a much lower cost to the residents who do subscribe, versus the amount of money that would be in the property taxes if we were in a normal fire service area,” Moore said.

These unique factors mean the department is always looking for more help, “Supporting your community, that’s what this is all about. We really strongly believe in community values. For community values to be protected and have some sort of level of safety, we need people to step up and come in the door,” said Biggane.

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