Anchorage (AK) Fire Chief Plans to Retire This Summer

Two fire apparatus

Tess Williams

Anchorage Daily News, Alaska

(MCT)

Mar. 4—Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick said Wednesday that she plans to retire at the end of June.

Both Hettrick and Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll will retire from the municipality as a new mayor is elected. It’s common practice for incoming mayors to replace fire or police chiefs and Hettrick said she is viewing this as an opportunity to retire after spending 34 years working in emergency services.

Hettrick was appointed chief by former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz in 2018. She joined the department in 2012 and has served as assistant chief, then deputy chief. She took the helm at the department after previous chief Denis LeBlancretired.

Hettrick is the first woman to lead the Anchorage Fire Department and said that while she was honored to hold that position, she wants to see more women involved in the field.

“I wish I wasn’t the first and that there had been others before me. … I was very proud that I had the opportunity to do that because I’m hoping that this will encourage other women to consider the emergency services as a career field,” she said in an interview.

During her time as chief, Hettrick said she feels the department has been progressive. During the last few years, Hettrick said the department has prioritized addressing mental and emotional health among first responders and improving the resources available to them.

“We expose people to traumatic incidents — that’s their job and it’s what they do, and that can cause stress on our employees,” she said.

Hettrick said she is also proud of the department’s work to create a team that will exclusively respond to mental health crises within the community. The project seeks to ease the burden on the Anchorage Police Department while providing more specialized and appropriate care for a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

The project received funding last year from the municipality’s alcohol tax. Hettrick said the project is still in its early stages, but the goal is to have it operational by May.

Hettrick took her first emergency medical training course with her grandmother, a nurse who needed the course as part of her continuing education. When Hettrick moved to Alaska, she took another course in Wasilla. She said the fire chief at the time had challenged her to join the fire department.

On her first training night, the crew responded to a structure fire. Hettrick said she was in awe watching the firefighters worked to save the burning home and take care of their community. From that moment, Hettrick said, she knew she was in the right career.

Before joining the Anchorage Fire Department, she worked at the Central Mat-Su Fire Department and Valdez Fire Department. She was a medic in Red Dog and also worked as a public education coordinator, then state training director, for the state’s Division of Fire and Life Safety.

Hettrick said she plans to travel with her husband during retirement. While she’s looking forward to it, Hettrick said she knows it will be challenging to say goodbye to her colleagues.

“I will miss them all,” she said. “That will be the hardest part, because we are definitely a family — it’s like leaving 400 family members.”

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