Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Along for ride on Fireman Al's last day


Fireman and EMT Al Badgley worked his last day for the Haines Borough Friday. During the past two weeks, borough officials and community members have honored the 27-year employee with speeches, special events and an “Al Badgley Day” proclamation. Reporter Eileen McIver shadowed Badgley on his last work day and spoke to him about the job and his experience.

At 8:30 a.m., Badgley and coworker Jenn Walsh flip through papers and binders, organizing files and books scattered around the office. Badgley has been working on clearing his desk for at least a week. He and Walsh share a narrow corner office above the police station that was once a bunk room where firefighters could catch some sleep after returning from a late call.

Badgley heads downstairs to the apparatus bay to perform vehicle checks for the last time on the borough’s six firetrucks and two ambulances. He checks IV fluids, the supply of gloves in an ambulance and makes sure tires are inflated and radios have power.

“I’d say the best part (of the job) is working with the public on prevention, and having people learn about safety,” Badgley said. “We can save lives and property. The goal is almost to work yourself out of a job.”

What he’ll miss most, he said, is meeting with the community and with volunteers, who come in to go over aspects of the job. “I enjoyed trying to get people more comfortable in their roles and their response capabilities… I really enjoyed the role of trying to make people’s lives better.”

The worst part of the job, he said, is “the feeling when there’s nothing you can do for someone and you have to deal with the aftermath of the family… It’s the gut-worst feeling.” He also won’t miss “settling little squabbles” like people complaining about their neighbors’ burning habits.

Back in the office, Walsh sifts through department emails. She queries Badgley about the annual fire department barbecue, including how much potato salad to order and makes a note to get more jalapeno peppers next year.

(On Monday, Walsh became Badgley’s interim replacement.)

The pair spends the rest of the morning in the firehall parking lot, testing two dozen hoses. Each department hose must be inspected once a year. Using a machine borrowed from Skagway, they pressurize each hose. Walsh uses binoculars to inspect them, as hoses can be dangerous under pressure.

Badgley and Walsh hoist the hose ends, bleeding out air and squirting water out into Third Avenue. A few residents pull into the parking lot to pay regards. People stopping by to swap fishing and hunting stories is one of the things she’s going to miss about working with Badgley over the past four years, Walsh says.

She talked about Badgley’s dedication. “Al’s ambulance calls go so far after hours.” When she started working with him, Walsh noticed the way residents count on Badgley and respect him. She recalled a moment at the start of her career, when she expressed that people don’t look to her the way they look to him. “He gave me a side hug and said, ‘It just takes time.’”

Badgley and Walsh unhook the hoses from the machine, roll them back up, and put them away. It’s 1 p.m. and Badgley heads for his typical lunch break, at home with wife Crystal. He eats a ham and cheese sandwich and walks his dog Cocoa.

In recent weeks, tributes to Badgley have included the extra time he puts in, responding to ambulance calls after hours. “People ask if it’s convenient for me to go at this time,” Badgley said, but he said he would ask himself, “Is there any reason I shouldn’t go at this time?” He said as one of the leaders of the “team,” he likes to show up when possible, in case an easy-sounding call turns into something more complex.

At 2 p.m., he and Walsh transport an elderly patient to and from a doctor’s appointment.

The volunteer fire department averages 250 fire and ambulance calls a year, or five calls a week, including ones requiring medevacs. In summer months, it increases to one call a day.

Badgley, whose job includes training volunteers, talked about the department. “I feel that we’ve got some really good members. There are members from varying degrees of experience.” Some volunteer firefighters have 30 years of experience, and there are volunteer EMTs with 20 or more years of experience.

“The roles are changing right now. Everything’s getting more fast-paced,” Badgley said. When he started at the department, ambulance calls involved picking up patients, controlling their bleeding, making sure they were breathing, and taking them to the clinic, “and you’re done.” Now, there’s a focus on field treatment. The department has become an “integral part of patient care vs. patient transport,” he said.

Badgley clears away crumbs from a cake volunteers brought for him at a recent fire and ambulance meeting. He vacuums and washes dishes. Longtime volunteer firefighter/EMT and assistant chief Chuck Mitman hangs around for the last couple hours of the day. He says he wants to spend just a little more time with Badgley on the job.

Mitman, who has worked alongside Badgley for years, said he’s seen Badgley’s calm demeanor help people who were ill, injured and scared. Their vitals improve and anxiety goes down, he said. “Al has that effect on people.” Badgley’s manner also is reassuring to rookie first responders, who look to him for guidance in the field, Mitman said.

At 4:30 p.m., Badgley’s desk is clear, except for a desktop calendar, two keys and an empty filing shelf.

He fills out his time sheet on a computer. Walsh returns from an errand, and gives him a hug. Badgley and Mitman head to the borough office, where he turns in his hours to payroll clerk Cathy Keller. Borough workers get up from their desks for hugs.

“I’m gonna be a great firefighter,” borough planner and volunteer firefighter Tracy Cui tells Badgley.

“I know you’re not going anywhere. I’ll see you,” says employee Dean Olsen.

(Badgley’s not leaving the fire department for good. He plans to volunteer there in his retirement.)

Badgley said he’d like to see the department expand on an emphasis on safety and prevention he brought to the job, an effort that included starting a “Safety Talk” show on the public radio station. He recounted a story of a young girl who used information from one of his fire prevention talks in the school to help her family escape an early-morning house fire: “She knew what to do.”

At 5 p.m., Badgley and Mitman climb back into the fire department’s pick-up truck. Badgley asks if they have time for a mail stop, then realizes he no longer has the key to the department’s box. He drives back to the department, and parks the pick-up beside the station.


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