Eric Mohrmann, appointed Juneau's fire chief Thursday, likes to encourage young firefighters with this little story.
When he was a young firefighter himself in Delta Junction, a town 95 miles southeast of Fairbanks, his chief sent him to local schools to teach students about fire prevention. He was nervous about speaking in public, especially to children, but he overcame it when a 9-year-old boy he taught saved his sister.
"His sister's skirt caught fire. His mother was panicked. So he pushed his sister to the ground, rolled her and put out the fire," Mohrmann, 51, said. "Being a firefighter is a very rewarding experience. Sometimes you save a person's life without realizing it."
Mohrmann has worked as a firefighter in Alaska for 30 years. He served for four years as a firefighter and emergency medical technician captain in Delta Junction and then spent 20 years as deputy fire marshal for the Fairbanks Fire Bureau. He also ran the Fairbanks Fire Inspection Bureau for 10 years. During the past six years, he has served as chief of Chena-Goldstream Fire and Rescue.
"The most challenging part of being a firefighter is to face terrible tragedies but maintain some professional detachment," Mohr-mann said. "However, you cannot let that detachment affect your empathy towards people."
Starting July 12, he will be Juneau's new fire chief, supervising seven paid firefighters and emergency medical technicians and 50 active volunteer firefighters from five stations around Juneau.
After the previous fire chief, Mike Doyle, resigned Nov. 19, the city started a nationwide search in January to fill the position. Twenty-seven people applied. Acting Fire Chief Mike Fenster died of a heart attack April 15.
Four finalists, including Mohrmann, were chosen and interviewed by a five-member panel on their abilities to resolve conflicts, analyze problems and lead a department.
City Manager Rod Swope said he selected Mohrmann because he is a seasoned firefighter who brings varied professional experience and knowledge to his work.
"He has been both a volunteer and a career firefighter himself," Swope said in a written statement. "He has years of experience with the types of challenges facing Capital City Fire and Rescue."
Mohrmann said he looks forward to living and serving in Juneau. His wife and youngest son will join him in September when his son finishes high school.
"Juneau's fire department has a good reputation," Mohrmann said. "The staff and volunteers are professional and enthusiastic about their job. When I had a tour there, I could see their attitudes towards their job showed in their care of their equipment."
Mohrmann said he will come in with an open heart and talk to as many people as he can before trying to make changes.
"While it is true that every department can improve somehow and I want to help that happen as well, the last thing I want to do is come in and make changes right away without understanding the circumstances," he said. "A lot of bright people are attracted to the fire service. I will listen to them and work with them. It is teamwork."