If your house or business catches fire in Bethel, you’re in good hands. There are now almost twice the number of firefighters in town than there were a few months ago. The number jumped to 18 on Friday when eight new volunteers received their badges and pins. The event marked the department’s first public commencement. Bethel, meet your newest fire service personnel.
“My name is Tucker Burnett. I’m 29 now, and I’m a dentist at YKHC. I’ve been in Bethel since August of 2016. I very quickly saw that just about every aspect of the community needed help. I’ve tried to volunteer as much as possible, but without having a real avenue for it, it’s kind of hard. And the fire department was obviously a very built-in volunteer system.”
“My name is John Kameroff; I’m 27. I work at the construction department at YKHC. I’ve lived in Bethel for two years now. I was tired of my normal, daily routine; I wanted to do something new. I’ve been on several fires in Fairbanks, but you don’t really know what to expect. Just go in, do what you were trained [to do], and hopefully make it out alive.”
“My name is Shadi Rabi. I’m 25 years old. I work at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Fitness Center. I’m the Program Manager; I moved here July 2016. Really, I just look at it as I could go home after work and watch TV, or I could go here and learn life skills, and that’s what made it for me. So I’ve been to three real fires; it’s kind of stressful. You just think of the training, and you ask questions of the other people, and you figure it out together.”
“My name is Jesse Gefroh. I work as a physical therapist up at the hospital and I just turned 35. Where I work in physical therapy, it’s mainly just females. And as weird as that sounds, it’s nice to actually work with some males and do some hard labor work, but also to help out, to get involved with the community. And it’s fun.”
“My name is Monroe Tyler. I’m 27. I work as a D.A. [District Attorney] right next door at the courthouse. It’s given me a lot of perspective in my D.A. job for cases involving EMTs or things that happen when people deal with EMTs or the Fire Department, looking at it from the other side and seeing what they see here. I just think it’s a good perspective to have.”
“My name is Matthew Cochrane; I'm 19 years old, and I work here at the Bethel Fire Department; I have a second job at the Bethel homeless shelter. I’ve been in Bethel probably seven or eight years now. I was working over at Yute Air before it shut down, and after it shut down the Firefighter 1 course opened up and I was like, 'That sounds like fun.' So I took the course and I absolutely fell in love with it. For anybody who wants to help out in their community who doesn’t know what they want to do yet, I would recommend trying firefighting. And if running into burning buildings isn’t your thing, and if you have a good, strong stomach and you can handle some blood and guts and things like that, maybe EMS is your thing. Whatever it is, if you want to help your community, the fire department is definitely the place to go.”
Two other firefighters also graduated on Friday: Alexander “Zandy” Stowell and Frederick “Buzzy” Wheeler. Wheeler was unable to attend the event.
The class finished its Level 1 training in June. Since then, most of the graduates have already responded to calls. Like most fire departments, Bethel’s is rife with tradition. One of them is that if a firefighter’s name appears in local media, she or he has to bring ice cream to the next training meeting. The next one should be a feast.