By Micheal Ives, Extreme Alaska
Leaving a legacy. That’s what student-firefighters have been doing at UAF for almost 50 years now. The current University Fire Department (UFD) Chief, Douglas Schrage, left his legacy here in 1985 after starting his career as a student-firefighter. He has the weathered, old brick on the “Wall of Fame” to prove it.
With the 50th anniversary of UFD less than a year away, preparations are beginning for a sort of firefighters reunion. Chief Schrage points out the high numbers of successful student-firefighters through the program as a well deserved badge of honor.
“We are fully staffed by, and depend upon our student-firefighters,” said Chief Schrage. “We have a career placement rate of about 75% as well, so our firefighters come out trained, experienced, and ready to employ.”
UFD has kept track of their successes over the years with a brick wall in the station. The “Wall of Fame” features signed and designed bricks by each graduate of the department. It has become a visual “who’s who” for firefighters not only in Alaska, but across the country. The problem with success? Sometimes you don’t have room for all the accolades. “Space on the ‘Wall’ is at a premium,” said Chief Schrage. “We have so many deserving students moving on up. We need more space.”
The morning of the interview Chief pointed out the brick by former firefighter Bill Shechter. A famous name in Alaskan Emergency Services, former Chief Shechter had passed away just that morning. The wall also shows names like Chuck Kuhns, long-time head of the UAF Paramedic Academy. New graduates are still creating personalized bricks on the “Wall of Fame” as it wraps around the station wall.
The uniqueness of the UFD student-firefighter program stands out and attracts potential firefighters from all over the nation. The program is the only fire station in America operated by full-time students providing care to not only university students and staff, but to the public around Fairbanks. “People forget that were are contracted out by the Fairbanks North Star Borough and that we actually provide a large amount of services and care to our community,” explained Chief Schrage. After serving the public as a student firefighter successfully, firefighters add their brick to the “Wall of Fame” and move into the full-time firefighting profession.
For next year’s 50th anniversary, Chief Schrage looks forward to the reunion of “famous” firefighters. As they read off the bricks for recall of UFD alums, the vast display of names, ranks, and qualifications remains forever as a permanent marker of the department’s contribution to public safety all around our nation.
*Click below to listen to audio excerpts from Extreme Alaska’s interview with UFD Chief Schrage