Holy Cross — A lifelong Holy Cross firefighter, Ernie Peters knows how hard it is to carry heavy tools to fight a wildfire, especially when the air is hot. That’s why Peters invented a creative way to assemble a firefighter backpack. He received a patent for it in April.

The backpack looks simple. A panel goes on a firefighter’s back and several straps and belts support a chainsaw and tools. A storage pouch is suspended from the tool bag to carry a fire shelter.

The best part of the backpack assembly is that it allows a firefighter to carry a chainsaw and tools hands-free. Peters explained that if a firefighter needs to hold a chainsaw, it leaves only one of their hands free. Plus, they would risk bringing the hot chain on chainsaw in contact with their neck.

“The backpack is really going to save a lot of people from getting hurt,” he said. “And it’s really easy to use.”

Besides, the backpack gives a firefighter easy access to the tools and feels light on their back.

“When you’re done, you put everything back in it and walk home, like there is nothing on your back,” Peters said.

Peters tested his prototype many times, and not only with firefighting equipment.

“I took it up in winter time and attached my snowshoes to it,” he said. “And I went home from work and walked in the woods like I was carrying nothing.”

Peters said it took him four years and a lot of hard work to bring his idea to completion. After applying for a patent, he also spent a lot of time waiting for responses. Now he is finally done and is speaking with companies interested in implementing his idea into real life.

“I’m very proud of myself for what I did,” Peters said.

He grinned while showing his patent to everyone in the Tanana Chiefs Conference delegation that visited Holy Cross on June 25, and for a good reason. 

“Not many Alaskans can say they have their own patent and it’s a big accomplishment,” Chief and Chairman of Tanana Chiefs Conference PJ Simon said. “Ernie found a more convenient way to carry chainsaws and extra parts needed when fighting fire. It’s an example of the creativity and problem solving that are needed to thrive in our rural communities.”

Peters worked as a firefighter his whole life and trained a lot of new employees. He said he invented his backpack to support ​​the field and community close to his heart.

“We have a lot of good Alaskan firefighters,” he said. “The Lower 48, really, if they sent us down there, we would really help them out.”

Simon agreed: “Firefighting is important to our rural communities because it provides an opportunity for a well-paying job that fits into our traditional subsistence way of life.”


Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.