Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Moose Pass Journal/ Whittier/ 8-10-2011

Bill Says: Riots in England, snow already on the ground in Cantwell, a plummeting stock market, variations of the movie "The Birds" happening in my backyard and Jeremy running around with a BB gun to defend the homestead, I still can't find my Mickey Mouse t-shirt, and a President who doesn't know how to make decisions- is this a sign of the End Times at hand or what?!

On to Whittier: During my time as Public Safety Director/Police Chief I had some pretty good volunteer supervisors working for me in the areas of Fire Chief/EMS Supervisor/Search & Rescue boat skippers and in the beginning some 22-volunteers. But I lost most of these people to Exxon and VECO after the Exxon Valdez parked on a rock and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound. Had someone been brave enough to make a decision to fire bomb the ship right away, ( after the crew got off of course), the damage would've been minimal. But no one did.

During this time period I had a rather poor relationship with the Alaska Railroad. Whittier was the HazMat port for Alaska and here the Hydro-Train was brought up on barges to off load onto the railroad tracks and become- trains! A deal was made with the ARR so that these hazmat cars would not remain in town past 24 hours, but they often broke this agreement and left these nasty train cars in our community for up to and over 7-days. I was constantly on the phone or in someone's face about getting these train cars moved and rarely did I win the argument, so I found ways to get my point across. These train cars were filled with deadly acids/fluids of all sorts and dynamite. I had cars hooked together with ammonia nitrate/dynamite/fuel. Had a car gone up, it would have initiated a chain reaction that would've simply removed Whittier from the map and all its people.

During one movement of cars, a hazmat car flipped on its side and blocked one of my road intersections. I promptly called out my volunteer fire department, cordoned off the area and prepared for the worst. I had gone through the Crown Point episode, where a hazmat train car began leaking an unknown gas and dozens of people suffered from it in one form or another, and several homes were left deserted for years. I was nearly 21-miles away from the train car, but when the cloud passed over Seward, I was on patrol and it caused my eyes to water for several hours. One of the state troopers who handled a roadblock, during darkness, was sunburned from the vapors.

The ARR was rather upset with me because a news helicopter appeared overhead and it became one of the local news stories as the ARR rushed to get the car upright. It took them hours and they requested I pull back my fire department, guaranteeing me everything was safe. I declined and kept my foaming machine ready. The minute the car began to leak, I was going to foam the whole thing down. I also provided my volunteers with prime beef sandwiches for lunch.

We had other run ins with the ARR over the summer, but these were always with their supervisors. I finally got the ARR HazMat officer to come to Whittier and give a class to my people. I learned right off how the ARR had little concern for the people of Whittier and I did my best to change their minds. They tried to bring pressure against me through the city council, but at the time I was in the council member's good graces for the way I was handling the oil spill. So I was allowed to keep my job.

During the oil spill one of my duties was processing the dead animals coming in to Whittier. These were mostly sea lions, ducks, bears and sea birds. I disliked this chore but it had to be done. I once had a seal brought in and the people in Valdez in charge of this part of the operation refused to acknowledge I had a seal and they continued to tell me I had a sea lion. But once I fully described the animal, they replied, "Wow, you really got a seal!" Apparently it was the first dead seal and no one thought seals were actually swimming in the Prince William Sound. Big news!

Three helicopters flew over from Valdez to inspect my seal and they took it back with them. This explained how so much money was spent on the spill. I mean they could've come over in one helicopter! I once saw Exxon fill a 45-foot trailer with brand new office equipment, Zodiac boats with engines and misc equipment. They dug a hole, put the trailer in it and crush it was a large dozer. I requested they give my Search and Rescue squad one of the Zodiac boats and they declined. They later buried the crushed trailer and probably filed for insurance. I really never understood that operation or even all the money they gave out that summer. People came from all over to stand in line when the money man from Exxon came to town. He set up a table in my fire hall and wrote out checks all day. I watched as people I knew would stand before him and told him lies of all the money they lost due to the spill. I tried to intercede, but the money man told me it was okay. In the end though, it was the guy at the gas pump who paid for all of this.

They harbor people brought me 5- 55 gallon drums filled with crude oil and supposedly dead critters. So, I got on my yellow slickers and spilled out this peanut butter like crude oil on to a large tarp and ...found nothing. No dead animals and I had a real mess to clean up. Again, I was not happy and expressed my feelings to the harbor folks.  

Then one day I had this older gentleman come running into my fire hall shouting, "They're all dead!" He could only tell me of how there were bodies all over the western shore of the Prince William Sound. So, while I left him in the hands of VECO employees to calm him down, I jumped into my patrol vehicle and raced out to the shoreline with lights and siren, only to find thousands, if not millions of dead miniature shrimp! I soon learned that this happened every year or so and probably had nothing to do with the oil spill, but I reported it to the Valdez office anyway. And man, were the sea birds happy. Hundreds of them filled the skies and descended upon the shrimp. so I got out of there. Remember, I'd seen the movie "The Birds".

But one day, while I was sitting in my office, a very large barn owl landed out in the intersection in front of my station. It simply stood there and refused to move as cars went by. I grabbed a very large animal carrier used for airplanes and went out to scoop it up. I'm still not sure why I had this massive animal carrier in the fire hall, but it now came in handy. The owl had porcupine quills in its face and crude oil on its right wing. I brought it back into the station and gave it a dish of water. It had its back to me and then its head and only its head, turned around, like out of a scene from the "Exorcist". This was a weird thing to see up close. It also had three inch talons, so I was really careful when I placed the water dish in the carrier.

I called Mona and she brought the kids down to see it. Then I called Valdez and they sent a helicopter over to pick it up. They later called to advise they had cleaned the owl up and released it back into the wild.

I learned a lot in Whittier; how to write up grants, handle the executive side of law enforcement, hire and fire employees, work out multi-thousand dollar leases and keep from losing my cool with elderly city council members. But I wouldn't have been able to stay in Whittier without having my life partner with me. Mona was my mainstay, my right arm and I just couldn't have done it all without her. I also had my wonderful children to encourage and bring a smile to my face on those stressful days.

But I can't close out Whittier without mentioning my ride in the high rail ambulance as a patient. Because of my prior injury in Seward, I was popping like 16 Aspirin a day and eventually suffered a GI Bleed as a result. I ended up losing 5 units of blood and was on a medivac to Anchorage. Mona was my EMT and I spent 9 days in the Hospital. Officer Mark did a great job filling in for me and he is now the Police Chief for Craig, Alaska and loves it there. Note: I no longer take handfuls of Aspirin.

I ended up resigning from Whittier when the City Council could not match my terms for another year's employee contract. They would agree with the monetary side, but not with my desire to have two full time patrolmen. They wanted the department to go back to one chief and one Indian and I wouldn't work that way. Impossible to take a vacation under those terms. So, we left Whittier and were soon on to Fairbanks.

Next to come; my time as a senior investigator for the State of Alaska Gaming Unit.

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