Smoke and flames were already coming from the house on Riverview Avenue when Soldotna Police Officer Aaron Renken first responded to the report of a fire early this month.
He had been told there were people inside.
At risk of injury to himself, Renken broke through a locked door and entered the lower floor of the two-story home, crawling beneath the smoke already filling the building.
He was unable to find the male occupant in the unlighted, smoke-filled house, and made his retreat to clean air outside where he found Robin Helminski, 50, a neighbor, who also had tried in vain to rescue her friend, ZeeCee Crow, 80.
As firefighters from Central Emergency Services arrived, Renken helped them carry the seriously burned woman to an ambulance to be rushed to the hospital for treatment. She eventually died from her injuries. Renken also was treated for smoke inhalation.
On Wednesday, Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey publicly commended Renken during the city council meeting “for heroic actions on the night of Dec. 1, 2006” while responding to the residential fire, and recognized all Soldotna police officers “for their faithful service” to the city.
“It’s not an individual effort,” said Renken in accepting the citation. “I do appreciate the recognition of all of law enforcement.”
Also during Wednesday’s council meeting, Carey presented a congratulatory mayoral proclamation to Sarge Truesdell, head coach of the Soldotna High School football team, which won the small schools state championship this year.
Following the two proclamations and a Board of Adjustment hearing on a proposed cell phone antenna tower, the council elected to proceed with a special assessment district street improvement project on Crow’s Nest Court and Diane Lane cul-de-sac.
City Manager Tom Boedeker told council members money became available for Crow’s Nest after the council elected not to proceed with paving North Aspen Street, which runs behind Four D Carpet, Froso’s Restaurant and other businesses along the Kenai Spur Highway.
The proposed Crow’s Nest project calls for construction of a street section similar to the existing section of Diane Lane including a storm drain system, curb and gutter and asphalt paving. The area is at the west end of West Marydale Avenue.
Boedeker said city administration would like to proceed with final design and bidding of the project in order to get it into the city’s construction schedule. The project needs approval of affected property owners.
One owner, Ray Merritt, said he and his wife are “very much in favor” of the project, adding it would increase property values and reduce street maintenance costs for the city.
“We appreciate the city moving forward on this,” Merritt said.
Boedeker said he could have an assessment roll, objection period and a hearing date established by the council’s first meeting in January.
The plan was approved unanimously.
The city’s building official, Ralph Linn, gave council members a midyear report on development in Soldotna from the perspective of the number of building permits issued since the July 1 beginning of the city’s fiscal year.
In a memorandum to the council, Linn described building activity as “exceedingly good.”
At the midpoint of this fiscal year, Linn said the city has already issued 14 single-family residential permits, compared with 19 for all of 2005, 17 in 2004, 16 in 2003 and 22 in 2002.
Listed in terms of the number of living units, Linn said the city has permitted 28 multi-family units, attributed mainly to condominiums being proposed at the Timber Wolf Lodge. The midyear total compares with 15 in 2005, 12 in 2004, five in 2003 and none in 2002.
“On the commercial side of things, the number of permits is dropping, but should remain healthy,” Linn said.
Three new commercial structures have been permitted so far this year. Eight were permitted in 2005, six in 2004, seven in 2003 and eight in 2002.
The council also heard from student representative Tashina Wortham-Turnbull, who said area high schools recently completed a competitive canned-food drive.
“Nikiski collected 500 cans, Soldotna collected 1,300 cans and Skyview collected 5,000 cans,” she said.
“Altogether, our high schools collected almost 7,000 cans going to the (Kenai Peninsula) Food Bank,” Wortham-Turnbull said.
In other business, the council appropriated a $20,000 state grant for books and computers for the Soldotna Public Library.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@ peninsulaclarion.com.
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