Unalaska has welcomed a handful of new community leaders in the last few months.
That includes Arlie Colvin, the new fire chief at the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Colvin to ask how he’s reforming the island's overloaded fire division.
ARLIE COLVIN: I’ve been doing fire service for 19 years, EMS [emergency medical services] for just over 18, and I’ve been a paramedic for 11 years. I love it. It’s all I do. It’s all I want to do for the rest of my life.
KUCB: What do you love it about? What drew you to the field?
AC: Well, being able to help someone. I love being able to go to the worst day of somebody’s life, help them out, and try to straighten it out for them. Doesn’t always work, of course, but I love to try. Been doing it ever since I was 18 years old. Started out as a volunteer and then started the paid service. I went overseas, working for the U.S. Department of Defense for three deployments in Iraq. Then I got the [fire chief] job in Bristol Bay Borough, Alaska, and I got Alaska-itis. I can never get rid of it. I’ll be infected by Alaska-itis for the rest of my life.
KUCB: What drew you to Unalaska, specifically?
AC: I’ve been to several other places, and one thing I noticed is that I really don’t see many people frowning here in Unalaska. When I did my interview process, that’s one thing I noticed. I also noticed that a lot of workers here at the city seemed pretty happy as well. And that’s where I wanted to be. I wanted to be somewhere that I’m going to be for a while. I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
KUCB: How is your division doing right now? We’ve heard you’re pretty understaffed.
AC: On the EMS side, we’re doing well. On the fire side, we’re hurting. We have about four volunteers that have Firefighter I and II certifications, so we’re lacking in that environment. Luckily, for the citizens of Unalaska, there are not that many fires. But at the same time, it’s hard for the firefighters to have the training to be able to do their jobs effectively. So that’s one of the big, big jobs that I have.
KUCB: So the next steps are to keep recruiting and certify more volunteers. Don’t you need a place to burn live fires to get everyone trained?
AC: What I’m trying to do right now is maybe get some containers donated to the city and work with a landowner somewhere. Get the containers placed, so we can actually build a live burn area and train these folks. Even if a volunteer doesn’t want to go inside a structure fire, that doesn’t mean they can’t volunteer. For you guys out there that want to become a volunteer, please come by DPS and fill an application out. There’s always some way, somehow, we can get you to help out.
KUCB: Before you, Unalaska hadn’t had a fire chief in maybe a year and half. Is it hard trying to get everything back to square one?
AC: I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but in Bristol Bay, we tripled the volunteer roster within about nine months of me being there. A big part of it was trying to gain a family environment. I’m heart-and-soul into the volunteers, and I hope the volunteers can feel that from me, even in just the month and a half that I’ve been here. Hopefully they can feel a difference. And if they don’t, then hopefully they’ll tell me so I can let them know that I do care.
KUCB: There’s been a lot of debate over the idea of restructuring DPS so that the fire division is more independent from the police division. What’s your stance?
AC: Some of the questions about the splitting of the department, I’m not at liberty to say. Other people above my pay grade are going to make those decisions. Originally, when I was interviewed and hired, I was told I was going to be reporting to the city manager, with some operations through the DPS director. As of right now, I go through the DPS director due to the fact that there’s an interim city manager. It’s kind of confusing, somewhat. This is a unique environment. I’ve never been part of a department that actually had a director over the fire chief. It was more that fire was a standalone department. So that is unique. We’ll eventually figure it out.