The call came over the emergency radio Thursday, "Noon toner test in honor of Kenai Fire Chief Jason Elson, who is retiring after 24 years of service."
Elson, submitted his resignation on Monday, but chose not to make the decision public right away.
While planned for months -- Elson had already applied for another job -- his resignation came one day after his arrest for driving while intoxicated.
Elson would not talk about the arrest nor its affect on his decision to resign, but Kenai City Manager Rick Ross said there was no relationship between the two.
"There are no dots to connect here, and I'm being up front with you, there is no relationship at all," Ross said. "He says there's no connection, and I accept that at face value."
Ross said he did not ask Elson to step down or force him out.
"There is certainly no connection on my part. It's a decision he's talked about with me for a couple of months," Ross said.
"When I made the decision to retire, I felt very comfortable about it," Elson said. "I've attained my personal and professional goals and I've left the department in good shape. I've left nothing unfinished."
Ross added words of praise for Elson's nearly quarter century of dedicated service to the city.
"I think he was an outstanding fire chief who did a great job. His FireWise program was recognized nationally and he did a lot to enhance the training in the fire department," Ross said. "I did not want to see him go."
According to City Attorney Cary Graves, a DWI arrest while off the job would have no effect on someone's employment. Elson was off duty when he was arrested on Sunday at 2:48 a.m.
Ross said Assistant Fire Chief Scott Walden will serve as the acting chief until after the annual budget process, which begins in the new year.
"When we get things done, we'll decide where to go from there," Ross said.
According to KFD Capt. Walt Williamson, Elson's resignation is effective immediately, although he will stay on to help with the transition.
Elson, 42, has spent more than half his life working at the Kenai Fire Department. Starting as a volunteer while still a senior at Kenai Central High School, Elson trained alongside the other firefighters, even though he was too young to fight fires. When he was hired, just after his 18th birthday, he said he would ride on the tail of fire engines as they sped to a fire, a practice no longer allowed for the safety of the firefighters.
When he began his career, his father, Jim, was Kenai's mayor, and his mother, Joann, was on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. Elson said they expected him to go to college.
"But after I fought my first fire, I realized there is nothing more magnificent than to be a fireman, much to the chagrin of my parents," Elson said from his corner office, surrounded by years of awards and mementos.
"I love fighting fires. There is something very self-fulfilling in it for me," he added. "You are fighting against an enemy that is never twice the same and is always changing. It's the greatest challenge there ever was."
With a master trainer's certificate, he said he feels he's gotten a good education even without college.
"You could almost say I have a bachelor's degree in what it takes to live in the fire service," he said. "It's all about education. It's a matter of survival. The public depends on it, and we depend on it for self-preservation."
Two events stand out in Elson's mind when he thinks back on 24 years of firefighting and rescue. He described an airplane crash during the mid-80s, where he spent the morning fighting the fire and the afternoon recovering bodies, as the longest day of his career.
He also recalled responding to the report of a man having a heart attack a few years ago as a special memory.
"It looked like so many others do. He was pulse-less and not breathing, and it looked like he was not going to make it," Elson said. "But we went to work on him as a team, and he survived to come back another day to shake my hand and thank me for saving his life."
Elson said he plans to relax for a few months and then may go into teaching or to school.
"I'm confident in my ability to pick up and start a new life," he said. "There are many options available for me, and those are only available because of the fire service."
Elson took time on Monday to tell his crew of his plans. He said the decision came as a surprise to many of them.
"Very few knew I was contemplating the decision for some time," he said. "I thanked them for their support and the experiences we shared. It was hard to say goodbye to some of the finest people I've ever met. I couldn't have asked for a more fulfilling life than the fire service."
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