Homer Volunteer fire department celebrates big six-oh

OK, just to get the historical facts out of the way, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department Inc., the organization that celebrates its 60th anniversary this weekend, was officially incorporated on Feb. 10, 1954. That would make it 58. The anniversary honors not just the organization, but the first fire company started in Homer by Sebastian Gnad in 1952. Chief Bob Painter says the tradition of celebrating HVFD’s anniversary in October came about because it’s National Fire Prevention Month — a way to celebrate and also teach a bit about fire safety.

Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., there will be a party at the
fire hall on Pioneer Avenue. Firefighters and EMTs will grill some hot dogs and show off the place. Weather permitting, “We’ll have some apparatus outside to get hands on and see what we do,” Painter said. “Mostly let people get an official visit to the station and see what’s going on, what their tax dollars help support.”

The first Homer fire company started with a 1942 Willys Jeep with a front mounted pump from the Civil Defense. That’s Engine No. 1, the red Jeep that sometimes is driven in parades and years ago used to deliver Santa Claus for the annual Christmas Tree lighting. In 1953 the fire company moved into the fire house at the site of the old Homer Public Library next to Don Jose’s Restaurant. That building also housed the Public Utility District, the predecessor to the city of Homer and in effect Homer’s government until incorporation as a city in 1964. The first fire budget through the P.U.D. was in 1957.

HVFD Inc. got its own land for an
annex in 1963, when it bought a lot across from Svedlund Street and Pioneer Avenue, the site of what’s now Bay Realty. The annex was used for dances and
fundraising activities by the HVFD Auxiliary. The firehall later moved east on Pioneer Avenue to an old service
station. An addition was built through a block drive, selling cement blocks to donors. The present building was constructed in 1981.

In the mid-1980s, the department hired its first staff, including an administrator, administrative assistant and training coordinator. Elaine Grabowski, the administrative assistant, is the longest employed current staff. With Painter, she works a regular weekday shift, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Three emergency services specialists trained as both EMTs and firefighters round out the paid staff and work shifts to provide 24-hour coverage. Everyone is trained at least as an EMT 1 and firefighter.

From 35 to 40 volunteer firefighters or EMTs round out the membership. Some are trained as just firefighters, some just as EMTs and some both. About 80 percent of calls are medical calls, Painter said, and the EMTs are a lot busier. That’s why some firefighters become EMTs, he said.

“They do the firefighter class first. They train a lot and find we don’t have a lot of fires,” Painter said. Then they realize, “If I want to be a responder, I have to be an EMT.”

In 1990, HVFD entered into an agreement to transfer all volunteer operations to the city of Homer. Painter started in 1991 as EMS assistant chief and later became training coordinator and assistant chief. He’s been chief since Robert Purcell retired in 1999 and marked his 21st year with HVFD last June.

An assistant chief position is on the books but remains unfunded and vacant.

From that first Willys fire truck to a fire engine paid for in a Betty Crocker coupon drive, the department has grown to a modern department. In an agreement with Kachemak City, HVFD provides fire protection there, and can use a fire truck at the Kachemak Community Center. HVFD also has mutual aid agreements with Anchor Point Emergency Services and Kachemak Emergency Services.

Homer Volunteer
Fire Department

60th Anniversary Celebration

11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday

Historical facts

First fire company founded 1952

First fire engine:
1942 Willys Jeep with a front mounted 325 gallons per minute Barton
American pump.

First fire hall:
1953, in Public Utility District building, at the site
of the old library next to
Don Jose’s.

Incorporated Feb. 10, 1954, as Homer Volunteer Fire Department Inc.

1960: HVFD Auxiliary founded to raise equipment and supplies through spaghetti feed, rummage sales, dances, annual Fourth of July firemen’s picnic and sales of an Alaska cookbook.

1963: HVFD annex built in Lary Slavin’s old shop next to Grog Shop, on what’s now the Bay Realty building lot.

1970 and 1971: $24,270 is raised for a new fire engine through a Betty Crocker coupon drive.

1970: HFVD moves into a new fire hall west of its current location at the Hunts Service Station. The building is expanded in 1977.

1981: Through a city of Homer sales tax, a new fire hall is built at its current spot

1980s: First paid employees hired, including Elaine Grabowski, administrative assistant and longest employed staff.

1990: HVFD and city of Homer enter an agreement transferring all operations to city of Homer.

2001: Emergency Service Specialist positions created and hired, giving HVFD
24-hour on-site coverage by at least one firefighter-EMT.