Ketchikan firefighters lose vehicles in station fire

a fire station
The Ketchikan Fire Department’s South Tongass station after a Tuesday, April 9, 2024 fire destroyed emergency vehicles parked inside. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

A fire broke out at one of Ketchikan’s fire stations early Tuesday morning, with multiple emergency vehicles presumed destroyed and heavy structural damage to the building. 

No one was injured in the fire at the southern region station. South Tongass Fire Captain Mio Rhein said no staff were on site when the fire started. 

“We got the fire alarm reported by the alarm company,” Rhein said. “(We) responded as we normally do, and found it to be smoked (out), with some small amount of flame showing out of the one end, and heavy smoke rolling out of the doors.”

Rhein said the blaze was mostly concentrated in one end of the bay, but there were a few smaller fires as well as heavy smoke damage throughout the building. The Ketchikan Gateway Borough said in a written statement that the fire was started by a piece of equipment, but that the exact source will be confirmed following a State Fire Marshal investigation.

The South Tongass Fire Department has only four full-time staff and relies heavily on about two dozen volunteers. When responding to calls from home, Rhein said most of the firefighters have basic “turnout gear” like coats and pants, but they need to retrieve an “apparatus,” or emergency vehicle, from the station.

a fire truck
At least three vehicles were presumed destroyed by the South Tongass blaze. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

“Normally you come to the station in your personal vehicle, you grab the apparatus, and respond to the fire,” Rhein said. “So it is a bit disconcerting when the apparatus is inside the fire.”

One of the South Tongass fire engines was not in the building at the time. It was stationed in nearby Saxman, so Rhein said that allowed them to respond quickly. 

“You get up in the middle of the night and go to a fire. And you expect fire, but you just don’t expect it to be in the fire station,” Rhein said. “That’s definitely an anomaly and an incredible irony. And not as funny as it may be in a couple of years.”

The fire broke out at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning and was under control before 4 a.m., according to the borough. Borough officials said they expect at least three vehicles will be a total loss, with two more damaged.

South Tongass responders are currently operating out of the Ketchikan city’s downtown station, and are still providing full fire and EMS service to their service area.

The City and Borough of Wrangell has loaned Ketchikan one of its three ambulances to maintain emergency service while the burned vehicles are replaced.

KSTK’s Colette Czarnecki contributed information to this story.

Previous articleHow to file your tax returns: 6 things you should know this year
Next articleAnother Boeing whistleblower says he faced retaliation for reporting ‘shortcuts’