Fire captain retires

After 27 years in his dream job, Godkin calls it a day

Posted: Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Jerry Godkin Jr. dreamed of being a fireman when he was a child.

When a fire broke out, he would grab a helmet and coat for his father, a volunteer firefighter, and wish his father would take him along. When there was no fire, he liked sitting in the fire trucks, pretending he was driving them.

Godkin's childhood dream finally came true Aug. 10, 1978, when he started working for the Juneau Fire Department.

"That was the best day of my life," said Godkin, 47. "The chief asked me when I could come to work. I said 'immediately.'"

After serving for 27 years, Godkin has retired as captain of the Glacier Fire Station. His final shift ended at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. He plans to put more energy into the construction business he started six years ago. Although he will still help train new firefighters, he will not be a volunteer firefighter.

"I've done that for almost 30 years," Godkin said. "It's time to hang that chapter."

Coworkers said they will miss Godkin.

"Jerry is a natural leader," said co-captain Beth Welden. "His presence makes everybody calm down."

Godkin calmed down not only his fellow firefighters, but also victims.

"Jerry knows many people in the community," Welden said. "When you have a crisis, it is nice to be helped by someone you know."

A few months ago, an elderly man collapsed in the Fred Meyer store. When Godkin arrived, he recognized the man as Hartley Crosby, a former judge. Crosby had once told young Godkin that he was not a good role model when he was brought to the judge for a speeding ticket.

"Judge Crosby. This is Jerry," Godkin said to the old man when he reached him. "Then he opened his eyes and said, 'Yeah. I remember you. You used to get into trouble.'"

Godkin knows many people because his is the third generation of his family that was born and raised in Juneau. He used to help his father, Jerry Godkin Sr., who owned one of the few gas stations downtown.

"Jerry's father had to keep him in line in the old days," said Juneau Assembly member Merrill Sanford, who worked part-time at Jerry Godkin Sr.'s gas station when he was in high school. Sanford has been a firefighter, too.

"I never thought he would be a firefighter," Sanford said.

Godkin became an outstanding firefighter. He was selected engineer of the year at the Glacier Fire Station in 1992 and career firefighter of the year in 1999 and 2000. In his blue uniform, he looked authoritative and confident. It was hard to relate him to the wild teenager Crosby and Sanford described.

Godkin oversaw several computer revolutions in his department, moving its platform from Apple Macintosh to Microsoft-based personal computers.

"He likes to stay at the cutting edge of technology," Welden said. "Although Jerry is from the old school, the young guys like him because he is willing to learn new things."

Described by co-workers as a "computer guru," Godkin was able to take an analytical look at the fire department's services.

"Our business goes up drastically between May and September, the tourist season," Godkin said. "When tour ships come, we have to pick up patients all the time because they don't want sick people onboard. Sometimes they fly patients from Glacier Bay, Haines or Skagway because we have a regional hospital here."

Godkin said the most difficult part of his work was helping the same people over and over again.

"Whenever we get an ambulance or fire call, I still get excited because I am able to help and fix people's problems," Godkin said. "But it is hard to go back to the same individuals who have drug or alcohol-related problems and provide the same level of service. You know what you do cannot help them. They have to help themselves first."

Having worked every third day for 27 years, Godkin devoted a third of his life to the fire department. But he and his wife, Laurie, strove to keep a healthy family life. When Godkin was on duty, Laurie would stop by at the fire station to say hi before driving home. Godkin would give Laurie a goodnight kiss over the phone.

"People call him to ask him questions all the time, even when he is not on duty," said Laurie, who has been married to Godkin for 13 years,

Godkin said he will miss most the camaraderie he has developed with his co-workers.

"I have dinner with them, play hearts with them. There is a bond you have with these people," Godkin said. "But I won't miss getting up in the middle of night."

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