Last week, the Ester Volunteer Fire Department learned that they had lost their insurance, and therefore also the emergency response contract for the Ester Fire Department area. Ester chief Jeff Conner said it was a scramble at the end of the exercise to keep the area covered for fires and emergencies.
“It was a short-fuse situation that was extremely difficult for, uh, all parties involved — the mayor and his staff, Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue and the Ester Volunteer Fire Department,” Conner said.
An announcement from the two fire departments Friday night outlined a transfer at midnight Thursday when responders on duty in Ester signed applications for Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue.
There is a long history of collaboration between neighboring departments, Chief Conner says, so they quickly developed a transition plan for Chena Goldstream to assume operations and legal responsibilities.
“Ultimately, from this chaotic situation, we were able to create order in that we came up with a great, working draft plan,” Conner said.
Chena Goldstream has four fire stations spread across Chena Ridge to the west of Fairbanks and Goldstream Valley to the north. Station Ester will provide fire and EMS response as CGFR Station Ester 51.
President of the Ester Community Association, Monique Musick says the change has shocked her closely connected community.
According to Musick, “the insurance company that all fire departments previously belonged to has decided not to renew. So they had to go find a new insurance company. The new insurance provider took everyone except Ester,” Musick said.
Musick said she suspected it was because of a claim made against the insurance policy.
“Guess who just saw a roof collapse? They made a big claim.
The roof of the Ester fire station collapsed in April 2021 due to heavy, wet snow. The roof collapsed on appliances parked in the garage.
As president of the Ester Community Association, Musick is the closest thing the community has to a mayor. As such, Musick wrote a letter Friday to borough mayor Bryce Ward.
“While I have the utmost gratitude to Chief Bracken and everyone at FRMC for their intervention, I cannot stress enough how important it is to the community that once the insurance issue is resolved, the contract is referred to Ester Volunteer Fire Department,” she wrote.
She says she heard from the mayor, who said the contract could revert to Ester when it is secured again.
In the meantime, Chief Conner of Ester says services will continue seamlessly.
“So the residents of the Ester Service Area, the Ester Fire Service Area, the changes that they will perceive will be functionally none,” Conner said.
“There has been no disruption to emergency services or personnel. The only visible change will be a temporary change to the signage on the station and the signage on the trucks,” Conner said.
Musick says it’s demoralizing.
“We will not see the Ester Volunteer Fire Department in our 4e of the parade in July, because they no longer exist,” she said.
“We’re hoping that all the magnetic signs or anything that will cover all of our old EVFD logos can just go away and we’ll get the contract again. And we continue as we have for over 40 years as the Ester Volunteer Fire Department. And that it’s just a temporary change,” Musick said.
“Unfortunately, the timing of this restoration is uncertain,” Chef Conner said. “The Mayor and as part of this agreement and resolution of issues – once we get assurance between the Fairbanks North Star Borough, we will resend the contract and Chena Goldstream will resume normal operations for both districts of fire,” Conner said.
The non-profit board that operates the Ester Volunteer Fire Department, Incorporated, still exists and owns some assets, the borough owns the building, and the fire service area owns the apparatus – the big trucks of firefighters.