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Ester Volunteer Fire Department loses insurance, contract

Ester firehouse
John Dougherty
/
Courtesty EVFD
The Ester Volunteer Fire Department firehouse in May, 2020.

The Ester Volunteer Fire Department won't be in today's Ester Fourth of July Parade - at least not with that name. TThe department recently lost its insurance coverage and borough service contract.

Last week, the Ester Volunteer Fire Department learned it had lost its insurance, and therefor also the emergency response contract for the Ester Fire Service Area. Ester Chief Jeff Conner said it made for a scramble at the end of the fiscal year to keep the area covered for fires and emergencies.

“It was a short fuse situation that was extremely challenging for, um, all the parties involved - the mayor and his staff, Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue and the Ester Volunteer Fire Department,” Conner said.

An announcement from both fire departments late Friday described a midnight transfer Thursday when on-duty responders in Ester signed applications for Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue.

There is a long history of collaboration between the neighboring departments, Chief Conner says, so they had quickly worked out a transition plan for Chena Goldstream to assume operations and legal liabilities.

“In the end, out of that chaotic situation, we were able to create order to the extent we came up with an excellent functional interim plan,” Conner said.

Chena Goldstream has four fire houses spread over Chena Ridge west of Fairbanks, and Goldstream Valley to the north. The Ester station will provide fire and EMS response as CGFR Ester Station 51.

President of Ester Community Association, Monique Musick says the change shocked her tightly-connected community.

According to Musick, “the insurance company that all of the fire departments were formerly under, decided not to renew. So they had to go get a new insurance provider. The new insurance provider picked up everybody, but Ester,” Musick said.

Musick said she suspects it was because of a claim made against the insurance policy.

“Guess who just had a roof collapse? They made a large claim.”

The roof of the Ester firehouse collapsed in April, 2021, due to heavy, wet snow. The roof came down on apparatus parked in the garage.

Ester firehouse roof collapse
John Dougherty
/
Courtesy EVFD
The roof of the Ester firehouse collapsed April 4, 2021, due to heavy, wet snow. The roof came down on apparatus parked in the garage.

As president of Ester Community Association, Musick is the closest thing to a mayor for the community. In that capacity, Musick wrote a letter Friday to Borough Mayor Bryce Ward.

“While I have utmost gratitude for Chief Bracken and everyone at CGFR for stepping in, I cannot stress enough how important it is to the community that once the insurance issue is resolved, the contract returned to the Ester Volunteer Fire Department,” she wrote.

She says she has heard back from the mayor, who said the contract can revert to Ester when it gets insurance again.

In the meantime, Ester’s Chief Conner says services will continue seamlessly.

“So, the residents of the Ester Service Area, the Ester Fire Service Area, the changes they will perceive will be functionally none,” Conner said.

“There's been no lapse in emergency services or staffing. The only visible change will be a temporary change in the signage on the station and signage on the trucks,” Conner said.

Musick says that is demoralizing.

“We won’t see the Ester Volunteer Fire Department in our 4th of July parade, because they don’t exists any more,” she said.

“We're hoping that whatever magnetic signs or whatever goes and covers up all of our old EVFD logos can just come right back off and we get the contract again. And we continue on as we have for the last 40-plus years as the Ester Volunteer Fire Department. And that this is just a temporary change,” Musick said.

“Regrettably that timeline of that restoration is uncertain,” said Chief Conner. “The mayor and as part of this agreement and the problem solving -- once we get the insurance between the Fairbanks North Star Borough will return the contract to us and Chena Goldstream will it'll return to business as normal for the two fire districts,” Conner said.

The non-profit board that runs 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 fire trucks.