Aniak's terminally ill fire chief holds a goodbye bash

Hundreds of people attend life celebration for Pete Brown, 64

Posted: Monday, October 12, 2009

ANCHORAGE - The fire chief of Aniak isn't one to wait around for his own funeral. When he found out he didn't have long to live, he held a goodbye bash.

Hundreds of people attended the bash for Pete Brown at the high school on Saturday night. Aniak has a population of just under 500 people.

"My father, he doesn't want folks dwelling over his passing," Brown's son Jeremiah said Friday. "He'd rather see everybody happy. He'd rather be able to see everybody."

Brown started a volunteer fire-rescue squad called the Dragon Slayers in the village. Most of the squad was made up of high school girls. In the process, he saved lives up and down the Kuskokwim River, and trained two decades of teenagers to do the same.

Brown is 64 years old and has terminal cancer.

"The doctor advised me to do something real quick, as far as the funeral goes," he said. "So this seemed like the way to do it."

Brown declined treatment in Seattle for his cancer that could have briefly extended his life, said Gwen Brock, a longtime friend who organized Saturday's celebration.

"He chose to come home ... that way he was able to say goodbye to everybody," she said.

Brown moved to Aniak in 1973 and worked as a fishing guide. He built homes. He worked in law enforcement. He was a firefighter.

"He's pretty much touched everybody's lives in this area of Alaska," Jeremiah said.

It was a four-wheeler accident in the early 1990s when someone hit Jeremiah going roughly 45 miles per hour in Aniak that showed Brown how much the village needed ambulance service. He led the effort to start an emergency medical system. That led to a training program for teenagers.

There were rules: No drinking or drugs. You had to keep your grades up.

Jeremiah was one of the first. The boys gave the team its name - the Dragon Slayers - but soon they graduated or quit. Then the girls took over.

After 200 hours of training, the 13- to 16-year-olds began joining the town medics on 911 calls.

They responded to suicide attempts. They gave oxygen to elders.

Trooper Sgt. Mike Duxbury worked in Aniak from about 2002 to 2004. He first met the Dragon Slayers when a village parade was interrupted by a call for help. Someone had crashed a four-wheeler.

The girls arrived like a swarm of bees, Duxbury said.

"They helped each other out. Gave each other encouragement. They worked as a team," he said.

He later watched the squad give a demonstration to younger students from other western Alaska villages. Afterward, kids poured from the stands, asking the young medics to sign Dragon Slayer posters.

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