Scholarships for students: Steese Fire Department helps their staffing by helping students

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) With tight budgets and dwindling amounts of volunteer help, interior fire departments struggle with maintaining staffing. In 2011 the Steese Volunteer Fire Department came up with an idea to help -- they began providing scholarships and a place to live for students who are going to UAF.

The Steese Volunteer Fire Department provides scholarships to students at UAF to help maintain staffing levels and better serve their community. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

"We are able to staff two stations, two ambulances, two engines, with these scholarship folks to serve the community for minimal amount of money," said Captain Ruth Church. "If we had this amount of staffing that we were trying to pay for full time, it would be quite a bit more expensive. So by giving them the opportunity to go to school, and live and work at the fire station, it really benefits the community members."

Church said in 2005 when she started working at the department, they only had a handful of volunteers and one paid person. Now they have 15 scholarship positions that are at the department full time.

The program also helps students.

"The program here allows you to gain experience [in] fire fighting while studying the theories and knowledge of it in school. So you are kind of killing two birds with one stone," said student firefighter Carlos Hernandez.

"It's going to help me have that background of already having experience in the career, so people know I do want to work, and I came up here so I could work and go to school," said driver and EMT Dawson Hunter.

The because of the success of the scholarship program, Chena-Goldstream Fire and Rescue started providing scholarships as well. The University Fire Department has hired students to full time positions for many years, making the UAF fire science program a destination for future firefighters around the country.

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