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Anchorage Fire Department Station 3 could find new home

Megan Edge

The fate of the Anchorage Fire Department's Station 3 -- located on Airport Heights Drive near Merrill Field -- is in the hands of the Anchorage Assembly.

On Tuesday, the Assembly stands to give the go-ahead for the purchase of a 1-acre parcel of land near the Bragaw Street and Glenn Highway interchange that will serve as the new home of the more than half-century-old station.

When AFD's current fire chief, John Fullenwider, first came to Anchorage in 1963, Fire Station 3 wasn't in a terrible location, he said, but in its 50-plus years of existence it has outgrown the space.

Fullenwider, who retired in 2006 then returned to AFD in the beginning of May to take the highest-ranking position, said a revamp for Station 3 has been in the works since 2008. That's when the Alaska Legislature granted the department about $6 million in capital funding to improve the station, which is described as having a laundry list of issues.

Station 3, staffed with about 10 people at any given time, one fire truck, one fire engine and an ambulance, is relatively small.

"We've outgrown it," said Fullenwider.

East Anchorage Assembly member and chair of the Public Safety Committee Paul Honeman elaborated, claiming that when trucks or engines return to the station they often have to stop traffic in order to maneuver back in. The parking lot in front is too small to maneuver, he said.

Honeman said he hopes the new location, which would be in the parking lot of the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, will have a more efficient entrance and exit. Fullenwider said he doesn't expect the project will have any negative impact on the school.

The sewer lines serving the existing station are also troublesome, according to both Honeman and Fullenwider.

"It was built on the edge of the old Anchorage landfill, and that has caused problems with the sewer lines," said Honeman. "You would have to dig into it, and that is expensive."

And then there are issues with wiring and asbestos. Ultimately, Fullenwider said, the cost to repair the sewage, demolish the current building and build a brand new fire station in the same location would cost more than purchasing and building on a new piece of land.

"It will be a better location," said Fullenwider. "The site selection study was very well done. This spot will make it easier to get into Mountain View, and it complements our response areas."

Honeman said he did receive one phone call from a concerned citizen who was worried that if Station 3 moved, firefighters' response time to Merrill Field would be too long, but Honeman said since "it's only a couple of city blocks away" it would only take two to three minutes. But that's the only call he has received, he said.

There are still several questions about the project -- including the total cost of the project and the building's completion date -- according to the fire chief, but he said he hopes to break ground by the spring of 2015 and is "confident" the Assembly will support the decision.

"I could see no reason why they won't approve it," said Fullenwider. "We have the money, and looking at the current state of Station 3 -- the demolishing costs (and) sewer repairs -- we wouldn't be able to repair it without spending more money than we have."

Reach Megan Edge at megan@alaskadispatch.com.


By MEGAN EDGE
megan@alaskadispatch.com
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