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Pride of St. George: Remote Alaska island finally gets a firetruck

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
Courtesy The Bristol Bay Times

For the first time in about five years, St. George has a functional firetruck. A uniquely blue-colored fire engine arrived Monday on board the crab fishing vessel Far West Leader, which took the truck north from Unalaska to the Pribilofs, on the last leg of a journey that started nearly a year earlier in Sitka, 1,280 miles away in Southeast Alaska.

“St. George has a firetruck, and St. George now has the ability to fight fires,” said St. George Mayor Pat Pletnikoff, adding that the vehicle will soon make a victory lap around town with lights flashing and sirens blaring. “We want everybody to see it. We’re proud of it.”

The truck spent almost a year in Unalaska waiting for northbound transportation, after arriving from Sitka on a barge funded by the state troopers. The last leg this week was funded by two fishing organizations, Trident Seafoods, and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Pletnikoff said.

“In this instance, Trident and APICDA working together are a great team,” the mayor said. “There’s a little bit more than fish to Trident and APICDA. People matter. It’s a proud day for us.”

“Big Blue” arrived Monday morning in St. George, and was offloaded by the village’s new crane, Pletnikoff said. The 35-ton capacity crane on wheels arrived on a barge two months earlier, along with a new modular powerhouse containing four new diesel generators.

The watertank on the village’s old firetruck froze and cracked during an exceptionally cold winter, Pletnikoff said, adding that the former truck was so old that replacement parts couldn’t be found.

The village corporation’s maintenance shop burned down in February 2012. “More than likely” it could have been saved with a working fire engine, he said.

Pletnikoff praised “top notch” Unalaska firefighters for watching over the fire truck. “They’ve been awfully good to us,” he said.

Sitka fire chief Dave Miller said the blue fire truck first came to the attention of St. George when the island’s village public safety officer was taking classes at the fire academy in Sitka. VPSO Michael Lejarzar said he’d been asking for the truck for the past four years. He said St. George, with a population of about 90, couldn’t afford $250,000 for a new one.

The fire truck, with 15,560 miles on the odometer, is in good condition, washed and waxed after every call, and has very little rust, said Miller. He said the town let it go because it routinely replaces fire vehicles after 20 years. A former fire chief saw the blue truck in a calendar where it was a “show truck” and said “that’s the truck I want.”

Sitka’s new truck is a $600,000 red ladder truck, with half the money donated by a woman who insisted on the traditional color. “She didn’t think fire trucks should be blue,” Miller said. He added that fire trucks are also white, black, and even pink, to promote breast cancer awareness.

Pletnikoff said the blue truck was loaded on the Far West Leader last week, but didn’t leave for several days while waiting for stormy seas to calm down.

“Yes! It’s here! It’s beautiful,” said St. George city clerk Julie Meredith on Tuesday.

Jim Paulin can be reached at jpaulin(at)reportalaska.com. This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times and is republished here with permission.