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 Department plans

This is an artist rendition of what the expansion/renovation of the McKinley Community Center and Fire Hall will look like. The bay on the left will be added to the two current bays. 

The McKinley Volunteer Fire Hall is getting a long-awaited renovation and expansion, thanks to the Denali CARES Public Safety and Emergency Services Support program.

“This is something the fire department has talked about for three or four years now,” said Dave DeCaro, fire chief for the volunteer department, located just off Mile 230 of the Parks Highway in the McKinley Village neighborhood. The fire hall is attached to the McKinley Community Center.

The CARES funding of $343,945, is specifically designated for local public safety efforts and emergency services providers to assist in response services, efforts and recommended accommodations related to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Denali Borough. Additional funds for the project will come from the volunteer fire department and the community center. Local fundraisers will also be held.

“We’re operating essentially out of a two-car residential garage,” the fire chief said. “And so space for equipment and training and supplies has been at a premium.”

The fire department has grown over the years, adding more volunteers, more apparatus and more equipment.

“We’re running out of space,” DeCaro said.

The project will make a number of important changes and additions and definitely add space.

“One of the things I’ve always identified as a need, besides more space, is a bathroom for the fire department, and shower and laundry. When you get someone’s bodily fluids on you, you can imagine, it’s not really great to take that home to your family. Especially since some volunteers don’t have running water at their house.”

The local emergency medical program has grown substantially and the local department now provides in-house training in these emergency medical skills.

“Plus, after fires, it’s really important to reduce the risk of cancer, to rinse off products of combustion,” he added.

Hence, the current community center bathroom will become the fire department bathroom, with an added shower and laundry facilities. Two new bathrooms for community center use are being added to replace the current large storage closet, and one will be suitable for wheelchair access.  A diaper changing station will be added. 

Apparently, that storage closet is already plumbed, as it was intended to become a bathroom initially. A new smaller storage closet will be built adjacent to the new bathrooms.

A third bay will be added to the fire hall. That will be a welcome resting spot for the department’s new brush truck, which has been sitting outside all winter, in cold temperatures and snow.

The building’s roof will be replaced.

Many community members haul water from the community center well and that water closet will also be renovated.

Inside, a rotting floor will be replaced in the utility room and a new boiler will be installed, according to DeCaro. 

The community center is currently heated by an old, large, noisy fan that often drowns out conversation in the large room. That will be replaced by ductwork placed in the ceiling, with small fans in the ductwork to distribute heat. That system will speed up heating the building, DeCaro said.

Electrical service will be upgraded and the current overhead electrical lines will be buried underground.

The old generator shed will be torn down, and replaced by a new shed. Routine maintenance to the building, like fixing trim and giving the exterior a facelift, are also on the list.

The project is moving swiftly because CARES funding must be spent by Dec. 30. So dirt work is expected to begin the last week of August or first week of September.

“This is great for the fire department,” DeCaro said. It also benefits the community center, he added. The two structures are physically connected and the two boards work together closely.

The volunteer fire department offers training every Wednesday night at the fire hall. There are currently 12 community volunteers.

“We are always looking for more,” DeCaro said.

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris