A new service area will provide emergency services to the miles of Seward Highway that doesn't pass near an established community.
Currently, the Cooper Landing Emergency Service Area is charged with responding to many of the calls the new service area will cover — nearly 120 miles connecting Moose Pass, Hope and Cooper Landing to the isthmus of the peninsula near Ingram Creek. That stretch of road can see as many as 4,000 vehicles pass through in a summer day. Ed Holsten, Cooper Landing Emergency Service Area board member, says volunteers are getting harder to come by.
“And part of the problem is becoming an EMT. We’re a small community. It’s a large commitment for people, the training is very extensive, continuing education is extensive and you have to be recertified every two years. So the number of people we can draw on, we’ve basically run out of those people.”
He says they’re getting most of their volunteer hours from a handful of people from Kenai and Soldotna. Megan Nathy is the lone paid employee for the current service area. She works through a contract and gets a small stipend and a place to stay in the winter when she’s not working for the Division of Forestry. But it’s a huge a responsibility.
“Burnout. The stress level. Being the only person in the area that can respond. Usually our drivers don’t have any medical training, it’s you. So as an EMT-1, I literally held people’s lives in my hands. It’s scary. I transported people with injuries that I have nowhere near the certification to handle. But I had to, because it was my job.”
The new Eastern Peninsula Highway Emergency Service Area will have a board that will have the go-ahead to draft a budget and a plan for how to best coordinate response efforts in that isolated area. Estimates run in the neighborhood of $350,000 to fund a small staff, provide training and contract other services. Right now, that money will likely come from a payment in lieu of federal taxes. It’s one of the few options as there’s no tax base for a mostly federally controlled area. The next step is to get that service area board together to begin work on a budget.