Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Right at home — CES assistant fire marshal a familiar face

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Interacting with the community is a large part of the fire marshal’s job at Central Emergency Services, and therefore a major hurdle for anyone stepping into the position.

There’s a learning curve to all of it — conducting building inspections, dealing with other fire and safety agencies, doing outreach in schools, being a media contact, and even the routine facets of a new job, like learning your co-workers’ names and where to go to grab a quick lunch.

That wasn’t a problem for Brad Nelson, the new assistant fire marshal at CES. Getting to know the community is the easy part of being new to the job, as long as he remembers which station he’s going to every day — CES on Binkley Street — and doesn’t succumb to old habits and drive a few miles up the road to the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment post on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Nelson may be new to the CES uniform, but he’s not new to the central peninsula, having been a trooper here from 2001 to the beginning of 2007, some of that time with a K-9 unit, Kazan.

“Ever since we left we always wanted to get back down here,” Nelson said of he and his wife, Rachel. “We loved being here. You name it, we loved it.”

Nelson left the troopers in February 2007 and took a job with Doyon Universal Services on the North Slope doing “you name it,” he said, including being a medic and fire technician. He and his family, which now includes 2-year-old son, Lincoln, and another baby on the way, have been living in Palmer. When the assistant fire marshal position with CES came open this summer, Nelson saw it as a chance to branch further into the fire services field, make the most of his outgoing personality and move back to the peninsula.

“Not only do I get to do the firefighting, which I love, but the fire marshal is involved in all aspects of it,” Nelson said. “It’s the best of everything. I get to go out into the public, which I love to do — I’m not shy in any way, shape or form.”

Fire Marshal Gary Hale wasn’t shy about what he thought of Nelson — he was hired a mere half hour after the job interview.

“I needed somebody who could get off the truck running,” Hale said. “He’s the man. He has a very upbeat and aggressive attitude, which comes along with his credentials. There hasn’t been a task he hasn’t been able to handle or tackle.

“Being familiar with the area is a huge plus, and knowing a lot of the people prior to leaving. People wanted to know, ‘Did you hire Brad?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said. ‘You won’t go wrong. He was the most upbeat individual. You won’t be sorry.’ And that’s the truth.”

After 19 years as fire marshal, Hale is looking toward retirement in a few years and wanted someone he could train to take over the position. He’s sure Nelson is the right choice. So sure, in fact, that when Nelson was wanted for another position in CES, Hale put his foot down.

“I said, basically, ‘Over my dead body. It took this long to get him and you want to steal him for me?’”

Nelson already has a background in firefighting from his time with Doyon and in the Alaska National Guard. He has fire marshal-specific training he still needs to get, like evaluating building plans, but he’s already been put to work teaching a fire extinguisher safety class and the public relations aspects of his job.

“He jumped out of frying plan and into the fire and has had no difficulty,” Hale said.

Nelson’s first week on the job included CES’ annual Fill the Boot fundraising campaign for muscular dystrophy.

“It hasn’t stopped,” Nelson said. “There’s never been a moment where I’m thinking, ‘Man, there’s nothing to do.’ It doesn’t happen. We haven’t been able to stick to a schedule yet. Not a single day.”

That’s fine for Nelson. Organized chaos is a good environment for his “adult ADD,” he said.

And the central peninsula is a good environment for Nelson and his family. He said he and Rachel were hit by that realization at the exact same time when they came down for the job interview.

“When we got out of the car, we said, ‘Yep, this feels right. We’re both home,’” he said. “I’m just so excited to be down here, it’s not even funny.”

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