North Star Volunteer Fire Department: Helping train the next generation of firefighters

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The North Star Volunteer Fire Department services the largest area in the borough with 25,000 people living in their area. Last year they responded to 1,400 calls and said they have roughly the same amount of structure fires as the Fairbanks Fire Department each year. They also don’t have any ambulances. Their firefighters are able to offer most of the same services that an ambulance can, but they need to rely on other departments to transport victims to the hospital.

The North Star Volunteer Fire Department is special. Their vehicle are different from all the other departments and they respond to the most calls in the borough. But they say it is their camaraderie that makes them unique. (John Dougherty/KTVF)

However, the members of North Star say it’s the people that really make it special.

"It's a great time, we all joke around with each other, poke fun at each other, you know, it’s because we all care for each other,” said Captain Chris Edsell. “The department just doing that one small gesture, you know, shows that the department really cares about the members whether they are paid or volunteer."

Each Friday the department provides lunch for all the employees. They buy the food and someone each week is assigned to cook it. This week, John Colelli was making his famous meatballs for the crew. Colelli, who has been fighting fires as a volunteer for over 50 years and at North Star for 27, is now the assistant chief. He said volunteering there keeps him young.

"The kids keep me active. You want to get ready to rock and roll, this is how you rock and roll.” Colelli said.

Another reason he works there is to help the new generation of firefighters. He said they are able to share knowledge with them that they have learned through years of work.

"So they have graduated from here, and these guys know, when they go to a lower-48 department, ‘oh you were with North Star, you come out of North Star,’ we got a reputation that these kids when they go down to go for jobs, they have been trained well."

Colelli said they have seen around 1,200 people pass through the department and go on to bigger departments. The younger firefighters who they train are grateful.

"It has been an amazing experience; I don't think I could have gotten this sort of camaraderie and mentorship anywhere else. Just learning about the culture and whole history of the fire service from a bunch of guys who have been doing it a really long time is amazing,” said Shae Erickson, a driver and lead medic with North Star.

One thing Colelli said that doesn’t change no matter where you go, “But the big thing here in this department, and every department that you are ever going to see, is we put the wet stuff on the red stuff. No matter what they say, no matter what they teach us, that's exactly what we do. wet stuff on red stuff."

Teaching the new generation how to do that is what keeps many of the older firefighters going.

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