UA Journey

History of the Whitaker Building

The UAF Fire Department serves a 25-square-mile area beyond campus, including the airport. It is one of the largest fire service areas in Alaska’s Interior and one of only a few fire departments run by a university.

The UAF Police Department has 10 fully commissioned police officers trained through the state police academy. There are also 10 student Public Safety Officers (PSOs). There also is a police dog on the force.

In 1973, when the building opened, students, alumni and local residents raised funds for a new, state-of-the-art ambulance known as "Uncle Able," which was retired in the 1980s. Students also funded Fairbanks' first ladder truck in the early 1970s, demonstrating their concern that the new residence hall complex, Moore-Bartlett-Skarland, was too tall to be adequately served by the existing fire vehicles in Fairbanks. Their campaign raised $120,000, enough to buy the truck.

Firefighting has had a long history at the university. The first formal student volunteer force was formed in the 1950s in response to the concern that Old Main, which was 40 years old, might catch fire and ignite the entire campus. The force was directed by mining Professor John Hoskins and had use of a jeep pumper, which was owned by the nearby community of College, and the university fire truck. Student volunteers were compensated with free accommodations at Hess Hall.

Chief Whitaker was instrumental in the developing the community partnership between UAF and the Fairbanks North Star Borough that created the current University Fire Department. He also was instrumental in building major portions of the current complex. It was his vision and pursuit of excellence that helped create one of the best fire departments and the best opportunity anywhere for assisting young adults in obtaining a college and lifetime education in the fire services. Chief Whitaker continues to make a biennial summer pilgrimage to UAF and the University Fire Department to support and mentor the next generation of students, as well as renew old ties and attend the department alumni functions.