Actions make difference in others' lives

Posted: Sunday, August 07, 2005

It's easy to grumble when you see the blinking lights of an Alaska State Trooper car approaching in the rear view mirror as you cruise along faster than you should.

It's easy to rationalize why you shouldn't get a ticket — "I'm running late for work"; "I was just trying to get past that RV"; "I wasn't going that fast."

It's not so easy to put yourself in the troopers' boots and imagine what their job is like.

Traffic stops and criminal law enforcement are the bread and butter of troopers' duties, but that's far from all they're called on to do. Since they're often the first ones on the scene when there's a problem, troopers face all kinds of challenges, from the mundane of sorting out fender benders to the more extreme of saving lives, even when it means putting their own at risk.

Such an situation happened July 27 in Sterling, when a woman set fire to her cabin with herself inside. Trooper Larry Erickson went to check on the woman after her sister called to report she was threatening to kill herself.

The stench of dumped fuel was strong enough to be smelled 50 feet away. Erickson got the woman to come outside and talk, but only for a moment before she went back in and bolted the door. Minutes later flames were visible in the windows.

Erickson called for backup before breaking open the door with a miner's pick he found nearby.

Smoke engulfed him as the fire lashed out the door. While Erickson was back at his car getting a fire extinguisher, Trooper Michael Henry arrived.

Together they kicked the cabin door open and confronted the blaze.

"You can't even see inside because the black smoke was billowing down to the floor," Erickson said.

At that point it would have been easy for them to stay outside. The fire was raging, firefighters were on their way, and the woman was probably already dead.

But for troopers and others in the business of law enforcement and saving lives, easy isn't part of the job description.

Crawling on their stomachs, Erickson and Henry entered the cabin; Henry with a flashlight searching for the woman and Erickson letting loose with a fire extinguisher.

Even bumping into a sloshing five-gallon container of fuel didn't make them turn around, not until they had the unconscious woman in tow.

Erickson and Henry didn't have to be ordered to go into that cabin. They weren't even asked to go in. With a fire that intense, and without fire-retardant clothing or breathing apparatuses, most people probably would have recommended they wait and let firefighters with the proper equipment go inside. But they didn't.

If they had waited, that woman would likely be dead.

It's worth keeping in mind. The trooper writing you a speeding ticket, interrupting your dinner to ask if you've noticed anything odd in the neighborhood or "butting in" to what you think is your private business may very well be the person saving your life some day.

They don't do these things because we ask them to, and certainly not because it's easy. The people behind the uniforms do them because it's right. And we're glad they do.

Moving ahead ...

Score a goal for the city of Kenai!

The state Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation approved a $251,548 grant that would help fund a $503,096 project to build four regulation-size soccer fields with a parking area on a 25-acre parcel of vacant land the city owns adjacent to the Kenai Spur Highway.

The next step is for the city council to vote on its approval.

Of course, there's much more to it than that, but what good news it is for the city and our area that we are growing in positive directions.

Hats off to those behind the scenes for working to make sure our youth remain an active part of the community.

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