Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

McKinley Volunteer Fire Chief Dave DeCaro is the 2020 recipient of the Denali Borough Mayor’s community service award.

Of course, he was volunteering at the fire hall when he got the news. He received his award — a large-scale photograph of Denali by Jimmy Tohill — at the Winterfest celebration in Healy on Saturday.

DeCaro has been fire chief at the small department, just off Milepost 230 Parks Highway, since 2014. He joined the department in 2011. Under his guidance the department has expanded to provide full emergency medical services. The department also responds to structure fires, wildland fires, vehicle accidents and other rescues.

DeCaro said it’s the volunteers who inspire him and lead to the department’s success.

“They are engaged and eager to learn and train,” he said. “That keeps me going and challenges me to do more for them and the community.”

“It feels good to help the community and be there if our friends and neighbors need us,” he added.

He praised some of the volunteers by name.

“There really are some amazing people,” he said. “Chris Noel is willing to help whenever I ask. Jake Hill and Anna Hinkley are always a super positive influence. Kate Batten has a lot of knowledge in the EMS world to share. Nat Shepard and Emily Myhre are super go-getters and are always challenging me to teach them something new.

“And then there’s Craig Brandt. After 25 years of volunteering, he decides to take the dive into EMS and become an EMT.”

“Pretty darn cool,” DeCaro said. “I feel very honored and privileged to have such awesome people volunteering with me.”

DeCaro’s nomination came with many letters of support from community members and volunteers who work with him.

“Over the last four years, McKinley Volunteer Fire Department has undergone a transformation,” wrote Chris Noel, a lieutenant at the volunteer department. “What began as a formal but small group of responders who focused solely on providing a support role to Tri-Valley, almost exclusively for structure fire calls, has transformed into a state accredited First Responder Department.”

The active volunteer roster has also more than tripled, with the majority of volunteers now certified Emergency Medical Technicians.

DeCaro is an EMT-2, currently working on completing paramedic training. He is also licensed to instruct cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and will soon be a licensed ETT and EMT instructor as well.

In addition to setting up ongoing training for volunteers, he regularly finds and applies for grants to support the department. He took the initiative to replace the foam tank from the light-duty vehicle with a water tank so it can be suitable for fighting wildfires. He encourages mutual aid with other departments. In addition to teaching classes, he helps community members find ways to make their property defensible against wildfire.

“He has proven time and again that if you need his help, all you have to do is ask,” according to the nomination. “He is a volunteer without expectation and a leader without ego.”

In presenting the award, Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker noted that the McKinley Volunteer Fire Department is in the best shape it has ever been in.”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.