Nikiski Fire Chief Bill Harris is retiring today.
Harris, who has been with the Nikiski Fire Department since Dec. 1, 1979, has a total of 43 years of firefighting experience. Prior to joining the department, he worked as a firefighter in the U.S. Army.
"Originally, I came to set up a training program. I ended up staying," Harris said.
Harris said that he looks forward to not having to listen to the police scanner any more.
"It can't be easy just to walk away," Harris said. "But it will be a break from all the politicking I have had to do."
Several of the borough fire chiefs had praiseworthy comments to offer about Harris.
"He's always been progressive," Scott Walden, the Kenai Fire Chief said. "We'll miss him, but we'll still have his input on political issues."
"It will be loss to the department," said David Squires, Seward Fire Chief.
"Bill Harris is definitely an institution," said Ed Oberts, assistant to Borough Mayor Dale Bagley. "He's been an asset to the community and will continue to be. He has helped to turn out volunteers."
Jack Brown, a longtime Nikiski resident and member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly for 12 years, said that his faith in Harris helped him through his 12 years of political service.
"Bill Harris is a man of integrity," Brown said. "When he asked us to raise the taxes to support the fire department first in 1993 and again in 1994, he said it would be the last time. He was a man of his word."
During Harris's time in service, the size of the Nikiski Fire Department has increased dramatically. There were just two stations when he began, the Nikiski 17.9 Mile and the Nikiski 26.7 Mile. Now there are also the Beluga station and the Tyonek station.
The Nikiski Station has 20 pieces of response equipment today, as compared with seven in 1979, when Harris first came to Nikiski. There are 21 members in the department, an increase of five.
"We are the number one rural water-supply boys," Harris said, referring to the fact that, since the peninsula has no fire hydrants, water is brought to the fire in tanker-trucks. Often, these tankers are refilled from nearby lakes. "People call us from all over the United States. We haul water pretty good."
Harris, originally from Bogalusa, La., plans to remain in Alaska after retiring. He will remain President of the Alaska State Fire Chiefs Association for another 18 months. Assistant Chief Dan Gregory will be stepping up into Harris's position in Nikiski.
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