Although the City of Kenai has a new fire chief hired from outside the department, he is a familiar face on the Kenai Peninsula.
Nine years since he left Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, Jeff Tucker returned to accept the top job at the Kenai Fire Department, replacing retired chief Mike Tilly. Tucker’s first day was Monday.
“I’m happy to be back and excited to be with the department with young energetic folks who really care about the community,” he said. “It has always been a dream of mine to come back to the peninsula.”
Tucker previously served as chief of the North Star Volunteer Fire Department outside of Fairbanks. The North Star District covers 106 square miles with about 25,000 people and 30 volunteer firefighters that handle about 1,200 calls a year. With a smaller, but full-time staff he said he expects the same number of calls in Kenai.
The biggest challenge will be dealing with the influx of tourists during the summer months, which have historically had the highest call volume, he said. Having a good working relationship with the Nikiski and Soldotna stations is vital to providing the best service for the community, he said.
Tucker said he is the second chief the City of Kenai has hired from outside the department. He has 32 years of experience in the emergency service field and has held a leadership role in his last three jobs. He said it would be a transition for his new employees to adjust to his management style, but also a learning opportunity.
“I see my role as ensuring they have the tools and capabilities to perform their job,” he said. “I try to empower people and give them authority to carry out a task. It is our responsibility to give the highest quality of service to the residents of Kenai.”
Tucker started his emergency service career in 1982 as a paramedic and later became a firefighter. He is a former fire chief with Gainesville Fire and Rescue in Florida. It wasn’t until a family trip to Alaska in 2001 when he considered moving north.
He was hired as CES fire chief in 2002 and held that position for three years before accepting the same position at North Star. Despite spending nearly a decade away from the peninsula, he has stayed in contact with other local firefighters through state fire conferences and training programs.
For now, his wife Patty and three sons will remain in the Interior. Patty is a nurse at Bassett Army Community Hospital in Fairbanks and will not move down until their youngest son graduates from high school this spring. One of his boys is studying at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the other in enrolled in a trade program.
Tucker said he enjoys being back on the peninsula and with it all the outdoor activities. He said it is exciting time to live here during a period of growth.
“I don’t think I will miss the minus 40-degree temperatures,” he said. “There are more fish here.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.