Fire Wire: Fort Wainwright Fire Department, a civilian department on a military post

The Fort Wainwright Fire Department is a civilian operated department on a military installation.
The Fort Wainwright Fire Department is a civilian operated department on a military installation.(John Dougherty/KTVF)
Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 4:57 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fort Wainwright Fire Department (FWFD) is tasked with protecting and serving the army post in Fairbanks, Alaska. While most of those they serve are in the military, none of the members of the department are currently enlisted.

According to FWFD Chief, Charles Gibbs the department does have a lot of former military members, but that the department is entirely civilian run. This is different than the Eielson Air Force Base Fire Department that is primarily staffed by active duty military.

Gibbs said the Army stopped using active duty around 10 years ago. “The reason for that is we are non-deployable. What would happen in the past when we had all-military firefighters is when there needed to be a deployment, we would take away the firefighters that were here and they would deploy, which then reduced the response capabilities of the fire department here that is protecting the families, and the housing, and the buildings, and everything that is here left behind,” Gibbs said.

With the all-civilian force FWFD is able to ensure they always have the staffing to serve the installation. However, they do more than just work on-post. Gibbs said they have mutual aid agreements with most of the departments around Fairbanks, and often are called on to leave the post to help fight fires throughout the community.

FWFD serves non-military in other ways too. Gibbs said, “We don’t have any volunteers that work for us here at the department. A majority of the firefighters who do work here are volunteers as well out in the local community.”

One of the reasons firefighters choose to work at FWFD is because of who they serve.

“Obviously a lot of our community is military based, so we have the privilege of being able to honor our men and women in arms,” firefighter Christina Cronin said.

Gibbs said that many of the firefighters who work at the department are hired from local volunteer departments. He went on to say that like many departments, hiring is a challenge, especially during changes caused by COVID-19.

On top of protecting Fort Wainwright and providing mutual aid, FWFD also has a large off-road rescue unit that provides rescues all around Fairbanks.

They also have the only emergency dive team in the Interior. “The dive team is a little short right now. We have had a pretty large turnover in personnel in the last couple years and a majority of those folks where in the dive team. But we are going to be getting that back up and running hopefully this year. We got to get a lot of people trained up on that," Gibbs said.

Firefighters Cronin and Brooklyn Thompson said they are excited to learn about diving, and Chief Gibbs said he is optimistic about the future of the department.

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