After 40 years of responding to “May Day” calls this May 1st was the final day for CES Fire Marshall Gary Hale to answer those calls. In firefighter tradition the flag that flies over the house where the first responder spends his last day of duty is presented with full honors due the career of dedicated service. So it was Saturday, May 3rd when off duty CES personnel in dress uniform, dignitaries, friends and family gathered at the Soldotna High School auditorium for an official ceremony to honor retiring Fire Marshall Gary Hale and his wife Sharon. “Retiring is always a special day in your life, but when you get a send-off like this from you own department it’s very meaningful and greatly appreciated. To hear the dedications and stories from my colleagues was emotional and originally I thought I’d just slip out and into anonymity. But after 24years in this community like Chief Mokracek told me you can’t just sneak out the door and not let those folks express their appreciation and it was a very moving day for Sharon and me,” Hale told the Dispatch in an interview.
“We can actually document lives that have been saved due to the programs and impact Gary has had on this community. Not just in the hundreds of children that he has taught fire safety to through the in-school and public event puppet shows, but the low fire bonding we have here in Soldotna is a dollar and cents tribute to his work as Fire Marshall,” said CES Chief Chris Mokracek. “The fire service is a career it’s not a job, it’s a career, a passion that you need to embrace and excel at, everyday being the best firefighter you can and training to be better, so retirement isn’t something you look toward as a goal, but you know when that comes. It’s a lifetime commitment and just like there is no such thing as an ex-marine, there is no such thing as an ex-firefighter and Gary certainly embraces that sense of career after 40 years he has earned this tribute today,” said Chief Mokracek.
Hale will stay in the community with his wife Sharon who serves at Redoubt Elementary and says he has no specific plans for the future except to be a bigger baseball and Chicago Cubs fan, “It’s only been 48 hours so right now it only feels like a day off and hasn’t hit me yet, but they tell me it will and I’m looking forward to the feeling. I’ve been asked to do some volunteer work, but my wife Sharon is the professional volunteer and that’s her gig but I have a baseball trip planned this summer to watch some games in Seattle and California to see some games with one of my sons and as my retirement gift the family gave me a unique Chicago Cubs firefighters hat and I think I’ll take it along because I’m sure no one else will have one,” he said. Hale was also presented with a plaque for distinguished service from Assistant State Fire Marshall Lloyd Nakno and a silver firefighters ax from his colleagues at Central Emergency Services.