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.

The Nenana Volunteer Fire Department has a new piece of rescue equipment that looks like a giant red plastic toy but can help save lives: a “snowbulance.”

“Ever since I became chief, we’ve had a need for a better means of extricating injured people from the wilderness in the wintertime,” Chief Joe Forness said.

The previous chief acquired an enclosed toboggan, which was effective but not very comfortable for the patient because it had no shock absorption.

“I looked around for the last few years for a solution to that problem,” Forness said.

He found that solution at Equinox Industries in Winnipeg, Manitoba. With the help of a grant from the Good Cents Program/Golden Valley Electric Association and a donation from Ruby Marine to help with shipping, the snowbulance arrived at the end of September.

It’s an enclosed plastic sled, big enough to hold a patient and and an emergency medical technician. There’s a heater inside and a light, and windows on all sides. It’s not insulated, but the full enclosure protects the patient from wind, snow and rain.

The snowbulance can be on either wheels or skis and has a hitch that allows it to be pulled by a four-wheeler or other all-terrain vehicles, or a snowmachine.

“Late last winter, we got called for a snowmachiner around the Wood River,” Forness said. “He wrecked the snowmachine and had bilateral femur fractures. Both were broken. We had no means of getting that person out without possible further injury. We just didn’t have the equipment.”

“With a femur fracture, the less movement the better,” he added. “You don’t want to bounce it around and pulling him in a toboggan with no suspension would be cruel and unusual punishment.”

Alaska State Troopers took over the rescue and used a helicopter to medivac the injured snowmachiner.

“Anytime you get a piece of equipment that betters your ability to effect a rescue or provide better care, it’s good,” Forness said.

The snowbulance is also available to share with neighboring communities like Anderson, Healy and Clear Air Force Station.

The Nenana Fire Department covers an area from Mile 326 Parks Highway to Mile 292 Parks Highway and all the area off the highway, down to Old Minto on the Tanana River and upriver 10 or 15 miles. It also provides mutual aid to neighboring communities.

The department separated from the city of Nenana in July 2018 and now runs totally with the help of volunteers.

“We’re holding our own,” Forness said. “Sometimes by the skin of our teeth. Fundraisers and donations certainly are key in us keeping the doors open.”

The department’s ongoing project is the search for a new building to house the Fire Department and its equipment. Improving infrastructure is critical as the department’s area of responsibility grows, Forness said. He sees Nenana growing and the department’s responsibilities growing right along with it.

This month, the city agreed to turn over all the fire trucks, equipment and apparatus to the Fire Department.

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

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