No holiday rest for emergency personnel

'Tis the season for 911

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

The festivities of the holiday season will wind down following New Year's Day, and life on the Kenai Peninsula will return to business as usual.

The business of keeping peninsula residents safe, however, does not stop for area emergency services during the holiday season. Monday evening poses a particular challenge to area law enforcers as they face the threat of drunk drivers.

In Kenai, New Year's Eve has not produced a large increase in drunk drivers, thanks to public awareness about drunk driving on New Year's Eve and area cab companies offering free rides to party-goers, said Officer Randy Kornfield of the Kenai Police Department.

The number of drunk drivers arrested on New Year's Eve in Soldotna varies from year to year, said Officer Greg Landeis of the Soldotna Police Department. Regardless of whether the number of drunk drivers goes up or down, officers prepare for the worst.

"We fully expect and plan and gear for that happening," Landeis said.

Kenai and Soldotna Police Departments and the Alaska State Troopers will increase their patrol levels Monday and be on the lookout for drunk drivers. The best way to avoid being arrested is to simply not drive drunk.

"Why gamble?" Landeis said. "If you drink, find another way to get home. If you drink one beer at the bar you should say 'I'm going to go ahead and call a cab or have a friend that doesn't drink take me home,' that way you don't have to worry about it."

The legal blood alcohol limit in Alaska has been lowered to 0.08 percent.

"It's not a very high limit. Most people would not necessarily feel that they are impaired at that limit," Kornfield said.

Alaska Cab and Inlet Taxi Cab will both offer free rides New Year's Eve. This service will begin around 6 p.m. for Inlet Taxi and around 9 p.m. for Alaska Cab and continue until the bars close at 5 a.m.

Police officers aren't the only ones who don't get a vacation this time of year. Firefighters, paramedics and other emergency workers must remain vigilant to deal with the types of calls they receive through the last two months of the year.

Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden said his Emergency Medical Service unit has seen a particular trend during the holidays that he can't explain.

"Traditionally, holiday time for us is when we see a few more medical problems," Walden said. "Either heart attacks or asthma. Not so much trauma, or injury. I don't know why."

There have been some emergencies, however, that he said are indicative of the season.

"We've had some chimney fires," Walden said. "And over the past few years, we've gotten calls from people deep-frying turkey in their garages using propane weed burners to heat pots of oil.

"As far as injuries, we get calls periodically for slip-and-falls in parking lots. Especially during the holidays. Fortunately, we haven't had many of those."

Len Malmquist has been Central Emergency Services chief for six-and-a-half years and said his agency has seen less action this year than most seasons.

"Actually this is probably the safest season we've had since I've been here," he said. "Normally, we get fires from exterior lights or candles burning. This year we've had none. People, at least in our service area (from Sterling through Soldotna to Irish Hills Avenue in Kasilof), did a good job."

Walden said the Kenai Fire Department received more calls this season than the year before.

"We've had 146 calls for EMS and fire calls between Nov. 1 and today," Walden said Wednesday afternoon. "That's averaging roughly 73 per month. That is a slight increase over last year. I believe last year we (had) about 68 calls per month."

On Christmas day, Dan Gregory said there were only two routine medical calls at the Nikiski fire station.

"It was pretty quiet," Gregory said. "We had a walk-in with chest pains at Station 1 and responded to a head injury."

He said the walk-in was taken to Central Peninsula General Hospital and the second call required only minor attention. Gregory said he's been a fireman in Nikiski for 28 years and hasn't seen much more than two calls a day.

"I don't remember too many years when we had any additional calls," he said. "A lot of times Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are pretty quiet."

Alaska State Trooper 1st Sgt. Charles Tressler said troopers don't see much change in their routine during the holidays.

"It's basically about the same thing other than this weather that hit us," he said. "Nothing to the magnitude of a great amount of calls."

Staying prepared for the season means having the adequate personnel and knowing what to expect. In some cases, circumstances change during the holidays that require some special considerations. But agencies always have to have enough staff to answer the call to duty.

Malmquist said CES staffing requirements don't change just because of the time of year.

"We staff normally for all of the holiday season," Malmquist said. "We have six people on duty at all times. We have the ability to call back as many as we need, but we generally use the six on duty and the six on duty from the day before."

Walden said his department expects certain occurrences as more people go out to travel or shop.

"We'll generally prepare for slip-and-fall accidents and vehicle accidents and medical emergencies," he said. "There are more people on roads because students aren't in classes.

"We do get calls for unoccupied house fires, whether it's a malfunction with heating or an appliance left on. And we are prepared for wood stove fires and heating problems. (Tuesday) we responded to smoke in an apartment building that turned out to be faulty wiring."

Malmquist said he has another concern for the remainder of the holiday season that CES responds to frequently.

"People typically have fireworks," Malmquist said. "With all beetle kill, trees are dry enough that if one of these devices lands in a tree, it's liable to ignite. People need to be reminded that (fireworks) are illegal and that they will be held liable."

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