University Fire Department: Shaping tomorrow's firefighters

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The University Fire Department relies heavily on student firefighters for day to day operations at the station.

Since the 1960’s student firefighters at the University Fire Department have been leaving their mark on bricks in the station. Many firefighters have gone on to lead their own departments or work for larger departments in the states. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

“The core of our entire fire department, the reason we exist, is to create firefighters to send out into other communities,” said UFD Battalion Chief Greg Coon. “And the interesting thing, and the challenge for me as a manager, is while I have those firefighters in training, we are also using them to do all of our core skills.”

This mission has helped set the fire science program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks apart from other places around the country. Coon said that he doesn’t know of any other U.S. programs that offer a way for students to be a full-time paid firefighter while they are going to school to learn about firefighting.

“I chose to come up here to Fairbanks predominately because of the University Fire Department,” said Student Lieutenant Colin Field. “Here you are a firefighter, you are paid, you work full time, you get to go out to emergency(s) on and off campus.”

This unique opportunity not only attracts people from around the country to study in Fairbanks but it also helps them get jobs after they graduate. One special part of the UFD is a brick wall in the basement of the station. It's covered in the names of people who used to work at the station, some going all the way back until the mid-1960’s.

“The legacy that is represented here on this wall [is] of incredible people... and incredible people in the fire service,” Coon said.

“We can come, we can look back, we can reminisce on our times here back when we were students,” said Coon.

The wall servers as a reminder to the students about who came before them and gives them motivation to do better. It also serves as a look toward the student’s futures.

“They can see these names and how they are representatives of the leaders that are in the fire service today so they make that connection,” Coon said.

“Seeing people that were in my shoes going to work in New York City or Seattle or Memphis or any of these large departments in addition to around here in town and in Anchorage... it shows you they all started where I am right now,” Field said.

Because of the quality of training firefighters at UAF receive, many do go on to work for large stations, but some decide to stay in Fairbanks and give back. That is what student Jake Yungblut wants to do.

“I definitely did not want to come to this program, take everything I could out of it, and leave without giving back after seeing those names on the wall of my battalion chief and the chiefs that give me order... that they are still here giving back to this. I want to give back like they did,” said Yungblut.

Yungblut also said that the job gives him the chance to practice leadership, something normal fire programs miss out on.

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