Ester Volunteer Firefighters lose insurance, contract

Last week, the Ester Volunteer Fire Department learned that they had lost their insurance and thus also the emergency response contract for the Ester Fire Area. Ester’s boss, Jeff Conner, said there was a struggle 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 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 as first responders on duty in Ester signed applications for Chena Goldstream Fire and Rescue.

There is a long history of collaboration between neighboring departments, says Chief Conner, so they quickly put together a transition plan for Chena Goldstream to take over operations and legal responsibilities.

“In the end, out of that chaotic situation, we were able to create order to the extent that we created a great functional interim plan,” Conner said.

Chena Goldstream has four fire stations spread across Chena Ridge to the west of Fairbanks and Goldstream Valley to the north. Station Ester will provide fire and EMS response as CGFR Ester Station 51.

Monique Musick, president of the Ester Community Association, says the change surprised her closely connected community.

According to Musick, “The insurance company that all fire departments were previously under decided not to renew. So they had to go find a new insurance provider. The new insurance provider picked up everyone except Ester,” Musick said.

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Musick said he suspects it was due to an insurance policy claim.

“Guess who just had the roof cave in? They made a big claim.”

The roof of the Ester Fire Station collapsed in April 2021 due to heavy, wet snow. The roof collapsed on the appliances parked in the garage.

Ester Fire Station Roof Collapse

John Dougherty

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Courtesy EVFD

The roof of the Ester Fire Station collapsed on April 4, 2021 due to heavy, wet snow. The roof collapsed on the appliances parked in the garage.

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

“While a big thank you to 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 goes back to the Ester Volunteer Fire Department,” he wrote.

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

Meanwhile, Ester’s boss, Conner, says the services will continue without a hitch.

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

“There have been no failures in emergency services or staffing. The only visible change will be a temporary change in station signage and truck signage,” Conner said.

Musick says that’s demoralizing.

“We are not going to see the Ester Volunteer Firefighters in our 4the of the July parade, because it no longer exists,” he said.

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“Hopefully whatever magnetic sign or whatever covers up all of our old EVFD logos can just go away again and get the contract back. And we continue as we have for the last 40 years as the Ester Volunteer Fire Department. And that this is just a temporary change,” Musick said.

“Unfortunately, the timeline for that restoration is uncertain,” Chief Conner said. “The Mayor and as part of this agreement and resolution of issues, once we get insurance between Fairbanks North Star Borough, he will return the contract to us and Chena Goldstream will return to normal operation for both fire districts,” said Conner.

The non-profit board that runs the Ester Volunteer Fire Department, Incorporated is still in existence and owns some assets, the town owns the building and the fire service area owns the apparatus – the big fire trucks .