CES captain 'Dunn' for now

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2002

The door was open and he walked through. This is how recently retired Central Emer-gency Services Capt. Jim Dunn described how he came to live, work and save lives in Soldotna.

Dunn helps people in the community in two ways.

Being a firefighter has allowed him to help people physically when saving them in emergency situations, and he advises people spiritually when helping them as a biblical counselor.

Dunn, 52, finished his last shift at 8 a.m. Sept. 30 and retired from CES on Oct. 1.

Twenty years ago, Dunn and his wife, Terry, talked about moving somewhere outside of their home state of Oregon.

God ordained and decided Dunn should come to Alaska to fish the Kenai River, he said.

In June 1982, Dunn's friends picked him up at Kenai Municipal Airport. As they were driving back to the house, he heard an advertisement on the radio -- Central Peninsula Emergen-cy Medical Services was hiring.

He was with the Salem Fire Depart-ment as a paramedic and firefighter for 10 years. With this experience, he was hired as the Kenai Borough Central Peninsula EMS chief.

Operations were different during the five years he was chief. There were separate fire chiefs for the Soldotna Fire Department, Ridgeway Fire Service and the Central Peninsula EMS, all operating out of the same building where CES is today. There also were fire stations in Sterling and Kalifornsky Beach.

"It was inefficient and expensive," Dunn said about the separate operations. "I have seen politics in the area overcome politics in the area -- and work out."

All of the fire services were joined. Soldotna gave up fire power and turned it over to the borough to form the Kenai Borough CES. All the services worked together under an intergovernmental cooperative agreement and became one department with stations in Sterling, K-Beach and Soldotna.

This saved money by combining all positions, he said, as well as equipment matching and better prices on equipment with the one service.

In 1987, Dunn gave up his administrative position and began work as a shift captain.

"I decided I wanted to go back on the line," he said. "I missed working shifts and being in the field."

For the last 15 years, he has worked the ABC shift with two other shift captains. He worked for 24 hours straight, working three days, with one day off in between each, then four days off; amounting to 56 hours a week.

"The first year with (Dunn's) shift was the best experience I had with all the shifts," said CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale.

Dunn has an easygoing manner, Hale said.

"He is an individual who would think things out. Being a pastor has helped him to grow and rationalize in the department," he said.

Dunn also is an avid learner.

The words of his past fire captain in Oregon have stayed with him.

"If you just learn one new thing every day you work," Dunn said, "there are 120 new things to learn every year.

"It stuck with me as a goal. You don't have to do it all in one day. It's a lifelong process -- always have to be learning."

It is not too difficult to learn something new every day when dealing with emergency medicine and fire science, he said, but he wanted to learn even more.

He was attending Western Baptist College in Salem when he realized he wanted to be a firefighter.

Although his bachelor's degree was in Bible and theology, he later received his second bachelor's degree in fire service administration through an extension program from Western Oregon College in Monmouth. To further his knowledge, he received a third degree -- a master's in Biblical counseling at the Trinity Theological Seminary.

Fire-fighting and biblical counseling are similar in some ways for Dunn. He has been on the staff of Soldotna Bible Chapel as an adult minister and counselor since 1997. He has been a member of the church for the 20 years he has lived here, just as he has been a member of the fire department. He has worked 20 to 30 hour weeks at the chapel on top of being a firefighter.

Fire-fighting has given him experience in dealing with people, said Cozene Wikstrom, Soldotna Bible Chapel secretary. "But God has given him the gift of dealing with people."

His own personality helps him to be a good firefighter, paramedic and counselor, she said.

Two parts of fire-fighting impacted Dunn the most. Helping people when they are terrified is one.

"It is rewarding to step in and alleviate someone's fears," he said about people who are hurt and have suffered a loss.

His second was working with good people. He has spent one-third of the last 20 years with his other family -- CES emergency workers. They would eat, sleep, clean toilets, wash trucks and save lives together.

"A very rare camaraderie," he said.

It has been such a close relationship, he refers to his co-workers as his brothers and sisters.

There are things only the people he works with can understand, he said.

"It is a different level of sharing."

Things other people will never experience, he said, "my brothers and sisters at work do."

He has helped them, as they have helped him, discuss personal problems, tragedies, divorce, loss of children and health problems.

Dunn has plans to travel now that he is retired.

Nov. 20 through the new year, he and his wife will spend the holidays with their three sons and the rest of their families in Oregon. In January, they plan on heading to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Then in the spring, they will head to Spain to stay for a month with his wife's family.

Dunn's future will not only include traveling, he also plans to return and continue working.

"I have no intentions of not working," he said. "I'm too young to be done."

He said he has another 10 to 15 years of ministry to go. Plus he is remaining a volunteer firefighter, continuing to hold on to his beeper.

"Where did the time go?" he asked.

"Sometimes, we sit around and complain," he said about working at the firehouse. "What else could you do that is so meaningful?

"Savor the moments. Look back and say it was worthwhile."

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