Ninilchik opens new emergency services building

Dark clouds, strong wind, and a heavy rain weren’t enough to dampen spirits in Ninilchik on Saturday, as the community and visitors turned out for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Ninilchik Emergency Services building. 

There were smiles all around as Dick Kapp, chairman of the NES building committee; Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer; Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; and Mike Chihuly, a 30-year NES volunteer, took scissors to the red ribbon marking the event.

“This building is dedicated to the people of the community of Ninilchik for their 35 years of unending and generous support of Ninilchik Emergency Services and to the many volunteers who have given their time to serve this community,” said Steve Vanek, NES board president.

Plans for the new facility began in 2008, when NES submitted an application to purchase part of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities’ Ninilchik site. After three years and with funding from an anonymous donor, a three-acre piece of property on Oil Well Road was purchased. In spring 2013, NES held a groundbreaking ceremony and construction got underway.

Funding for the 7,200-square-foot, four-bay building came from a legislative grant to NES, sponsored by Reps. Seaton; Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Kenai; and Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna; as well as Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, with additional support from Micciche. 

“We had budgeted $2,510,000 and we still have some furnishings to get for the department,” said Kapp.

With the current building costs totaling $2,470,000, and some furnishings still to be purchased, Kapp anticipated the project would come in at or under budget.

“We were able to do this within budget by a lot of hard work from the local building committee we set up,” said Vanek.

In addition to Kapp and Vanek, the committee also included Chihuly, Madeline Thompson, Wayne Taggart, Gina Wiste, Willard Bauman and Rob Robson, the project manager and former Kenai Peninsula Borough capital projects director.

“(Robson) did a really fantastic job for us and really helped us along,” said Vanek. “He was a really big help working through the design.”

Kapp agreed.

“More than 95 percent of our funds are actually in that building,” said Kapp. “That’s a direct result of our involvement with (Robson). I haven’t the words to describe our appreciation for what a good job he did for us. … Anybody building a building, that’s the guy to get as your manager.”

The building was constructed by G&S Construction from Soldotna.

“We tried to do as much local as we could do,” said Kapp. “I don’t think any contractors were involved that were not from Alaska.”

Saturday’s ribbon cutting also was an opportunity to honor Chihuly with a legislative citation sponsored by Chenault and Senate President Charlie Higgins, R-Wasilla; along with Seaton and Micciche. It was presented by Seaton, Micciche and KPB Mayor Mike Navarre.

Chihuly retired from NES in 2013, but continued his involvement until the building was completed. He began his service in 1984 as a volunteer firefighter and became an EMT I two years later. By 2001, he had advanced to the level of EMT III. When Ninilchik Community Ambulance and Ninilchik Fire Department joined forces in 2002 to become Ninilchik Emergency Services, Chihuly became the volunteer fire chief.

 “He has led a dedicated and capable group of volunteer responders and competent board members, as well as managing a fiscally responsible operation,” said Seaton, reading from the citation that described Chihuly as “a quiet, behind-the-scenes hero in Ninilchik.”  

Since 1979, and now with more than 150 annual responses between Happy Valley on the south and Clam Gulch on the north, NES volunteers have fought wildland fires and large structure fires, have conducted search and rescues, treated cardiac patients and delivered two babies. NES has two advanced life support ambulances and four pieces of fire apparatus. 

An all-terrain “Big Red” helps with off-road rescue and travel and a “Code Red” mini-firehouse offers compressed air foam system capability.  The new facility offers the station its own water well and cistern with a minimum of 20,000 gallons of water in reserve for firefighting. 

“The members of the 28th Alaska State Legislature join the community of Ninilchik and the Kenai Peninsula in celebrating the legacy of Mike Chihuly and the volunteers of Ninilchik Emergency Services for their extensive contributions to the safety of Kenai Peninsula Residents,” said Seaton.

Vanek added a special thanks for support from Ninilchik Traditional Council and American Legion Post 18.

With the retirement of Chihuly as fire chief, as well as Gina Wiste as EMS chief, the two separate positions have been made into one chief position now held by David Bear.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at