After a career that has spanned four decade,s Central Emergency Services (CES) Fire Marshall Gary Gale will be hanging up his boots come the first of May, The only fire engines he’ll be shinning will be the thousands of toys he has collected through the years. “There just are not enough words to explain the happiness that come when you are ready for retirement. No second thoughts, you put the paperwork in and you know you have arrived,” Hale told the Dispatch in an interview. Hale started his firefighter career in Colorado before moving to Alaska to be near family and was hired first in Kenai by Marathon on board the Steelhead platform eventually transferring to the Kalifornsky department in the eighties which eventually morphed into CES and Hale taking on the position of Fire Marshall.
During his career Hale and his wife Sharon have endeared themselves to the community as Captain Burn-ee and Edith (exit drills in the home) wearing full clown regalia and make up they took the CES public fire prevention education program to new heights. “I started doing it on my days off and during fire education month in the schools. We resurrected the puppet show and stage that had gotten put away in storage expanded it and added several more volunteer puppeteers and went from the original four to now over a hundred puppets and a trailer to transport all our props, stage and sound equipment. It was in the early nineties when I met a firefighter clown in Phoenix and he showed me some clowning and we took it to the schools with the puppets; my talented seamstress wife making all our costumes. It was great in the schools and for families to learn basic fire prevention, but getting into make-up and costume took almost an hour every time, so Capt. Burn-ee actually went into early retirement five years ago and is said to be looking for a winter home for us somewhere warm,” said Hale. He recalled a couple of times he received fire calls while in costume, “Once I made the front page of the Clarion when I got a call while heading to Sterling Elementary, I was the first on scene to make a size up and am looking for a place to hide and along comes Clarion photographer Scott Moon at the time. I didn’t go into the fire, but was changing out air packs for the assistant commander while in clown attire, but it earned me an accommodation from the Governor,” laughed Hale.
Hale also said he was very proud to clown around with what he called his fellow street walkers at the “Y” in Soldotna every Labor Day Weekend for the annual Fill the Boot campaign for Jerry’s Kids and the Muscular Dystrophy Assoc. “We did it for 22 years, Sharon was there every year even the one year I had a medical emergency. Every year this community met or exceeded what they gave the previous year and we knew that many times the motivation for giving was an expression of thanks to the firefighters and recognition for what we do, but over those years we raised I believe over a quarter of a million dollars and that’s amazing for a small community, but the people here are amazing and will always open their hearts and wallets when asked to,” he stated. As to their future plans, “I’m asked that every day and at this point we plan to play it by ear. We’ll stay in the community but will be looking for warmer lands to spend the winters.”