Story last updated at 2:58 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2002

Heroes mistreated
Driving my car through Anchor Point recently, I was struck by the irony of a large signboard which was attempting to encourage community members to volunteer their time and efforts to the town via the Anchor Point Volunteer Fire Department. It was the last sentence that really hit me: "Be a Hero."

Now, I am not a very political individual. My involvement seems to center mostly around the challenges of daily survival as a single mother and a hardworking homeowner. So this letter is not by any means politically motivated.

It just so happens that I know and love a man who was, in fact, the very "hero" of this very volunteer fire department only a few short years ago. His Hero of the Year award collects dust in my home. I have watched and learned very carefully, and very convincingly, what it is to be a hero in this organization.

As one of the top responders, this man was very active and dedicated, and served his community as fire chief and as a pivotal part of the department's morale. Shortly after he was awarded the noteworthy title of "Hero of the Year" by the APVFD, he suffered a severe spinal injury while in the service of the department and the community. After responding selflessly in some of the more treacherous weather conditions that I have witnessed in my many years in Alaska to the emergency calls of his community, the fire chief was in a position to be asking for help himself.

Not only was his situation ignored and his medical challenges unaided and unanswered by the borough mayor's office and the service area board, but the APVFD itself did somewhere between little and nothing to assist their "hero."

Now, with the forced installation of one of the most ineffective team players in the history of the department as administrator, and the mass resignation of most of our longtime, deeply dedicated members, I am overwhelmed by the irony of the suggestion "Be a Hero." It is my feeling that when such a significant resignation of good people occurs, perhaps there is an equally significant cause. When "heroes" are treated so poorly, and when genuine "life savers" opt out, the community really ought to take notice. When a team of firefighters and emergency responders feels they would rather not respond than to respond under the prevailing administration, something has got to be fundamentally very wrong.

Furthermore, something is sure to go wrong in the commission of emergency responses when the most highly trained responders are not on scene anymore. Saving lives is a very serious endeavor. I submit that perhaps the priorities of the APVFD, and those who pull its strings have run grievously amuck. I also propose to the community that being a hero is not what you and I may assume it is under the circumstances.

If I sound at all righteous, I suppose that may be simply because when discussing issues which are so basically straightforward as responding to life-threatening emergencies, the right thing to do is obvious.

Lori Blank, Anchor Point