Alaska Digest

Posted: Thursday, October 07, 2004

Capital City recruits firefighters

JUNEAU - Capital City Fire and Rescue is currently recruiting volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

The deadline for this round of applications is Friday, but the fire department receives applications year-round and will have another recruitment in January.

"This year we are doing something special," said fire training officer John George. "People can volunteer either as firefighters or medics. In the past, we had to turn some people away because they were interested in working in only one area."

George said this is part of the fire department's effort to attract more volunteers. The city has seen a steady decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters, which mirrors the national trend.

"Nationally, we have seen a 20 percent drop in the total number of volunteer firefighters during the past 20 years. The annual decrease is 2 or 3 percent," George said. "It's hard to recruit and retain volunteers now because there are so many volunteer organizations asking for people's time."

The fire department will provide training. The basic orientation will take 60 to 80 hours. People who receive the orientation training will get another 120 hours of training at the firefighter academy in the spring to get certified. People who are interested in volunteering as an emergency medical technician will need to get another 96 hours of training.

"We don't expect people to come with prior strengths," George said.

George said the fire department has received 15 applications so far.

Applications are available at local fire stations or by calling department headquarters at 586-5322.

Voters back school projects, reject tax

ANCHORAGE - Voters in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough have again rejected a sales tax.

At municipal elections around the state Tuesday, voters in Fairbanks and Juneau backed school but Nikiski residents turned down a proposal establishing a new law enforcement service area.

The rejection of sales tax in the Mat-Su Borough was the fifth by voters since 1991.

They said no despite assurances by elected and appointed officials that the proposed 1 percent sales tax would offset property taxes.

The turnout was a little more than 22 percent. With absentee votes not counted, nearly 62 percent of those who cast votes had rejected the tax.

The tax would have covered items including food and cars and was projected to raise more than $5 million.

In Fairbanks, voters backed two bond propositions aimed at schools.

More than a dozen Fairbanks North Star Borough schools will receive $11.5 million in improvements under the two measures.

"It's excellent news because the community continues to support our schools and to keep the environments safe and conducive to learning," said schools Superintendent Ann Shortt.

Leaseholders say Beluga coal deal surprised them

ANCHORAGE - Leaseholders who control Alaska's Beluga coal fields say they were surprised by a trade agreement with Taiwan announced by Gov. Frank Murkowski last month.

The agreement calls for large purchases of their coal.

The leaseholders were not involved in the negotiations and said they learned about the trade agreement after it was signed and posted on the governor's Web site.

"We were totally unaware of this and taken completely by surprise," said James Feug, who heads Placer Dome's Anchorage office. Placer Dome, with Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region Inc., is one of two major leaseholders of Beluga coal. The other is PacRim Coal, headed by Anchorage businessman Bob Stiles.

"We have had no part in the deal. We have had no contact with anyone regarding the deal," Stiles said. "I read about it in the paper."

Personal financial links between the proposed Beluga development and state Attorney General Gregg Renkes are being investigated by Robert Bundy, a former U.S. Attorney in Alaska. Murkowski on Sunday appointed Bundy as an independent counsel after he learned that Renkes owned stock in and previously worked for a company, Denver-based KFx, that could benefit from the trade deal.

Legislator: Why was couple allowed to adopt?

ANCHORAGE - A state legislator wants to know why Patrick and Sherry Kelley were allowed to adopt five children they now are accused of abusing and neglecting.

Rep. Norman Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, also is asking why the children's birth relatives were passed over when the Kelleys were approved.

If the state Department of Health and Social Services does not thoroughly investigate, Rokeberg will seek a legislative investigation, he said in a letter to department Commissioner Joel Gilbertson.

"This is a black mark on the department and the state, and I want to get to the bottom of the situation and correct whatever went wrong here so that other children do not experience what has been reported that these children suffered," Rokeberg wrote Sept. 24.

The Kelleys were arrested Sept. 13. They face 54 criminal charges of assault, kidnapping, criminal nonsupport and reckless endangerment. Sherry Kelley's parents, George and Shirley Long, the children's adoptive grandparents, also face criminal counts, including assault.

The state placed the children with the Kelleys when they were licensed as foster parents in Anchorage and later approved the adoptions. When Alaska State Troopers intervened in July, the family had moved to a compound between Big Lake and Wasilla in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

The children then were ages 6, 10, 13, 14 and 15.

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