Meet Patrick Shipp, Unalaska's New Fire Chief
Unalaska's new fire chief started work this week after two weeks under quarantine.
The position had been vacant since Ramona Thompson was fired from the position last October, after about a year and a half leading the Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services.
Patrick Shipp and his wife, Stacy, moved to the island from Webster, Texas two weeks ago.
KUCB's Hope McKenney sat down with Shipp to talk about his career and why he came to Unalaska.
PATRICK SHIPP: I've been in the fire service for 31 years. I've been really doing the fire service since I was 10 years old. I started as a volunteer, became a career firefighter after I got out of the Coast Guard. When I got out of college, I spent five years as a corpsman in the Coast Guard...all of my time in the Pacific Northwest. So I went back to the town I grew up in, went back to that volunteer fire department. And then decided that was really what I wanted to do for a career, and went to work at the Jacksonville Fire Department in Jacksonville, Texas, and then married my wife, who was a firefighter/paramedic in the town of Lufkin, Texas. So I decided to go to work there so we could be together a little bit more. Was there for a year and got head hunted up to be the fire chief in College Place, Washington. Was there for a little over three years and went back to Texas and was the fire chief in Webster, Texas for eleven years. Retired out in July, went to the farm, bought a bulldozer, started building lakes, and even got back on the same volunteer fire department that I started out on. My wife started travel nursing and she really, really loved it. So I spent a lot of time with her traveling. So we went and spent about eight weeks in Florida, spent New Year's in Key West. And finally it dawned on me, I'm not ready to retire. I'm 51 years old, not ready. And we actually have two sons...one's in Anchorage in the Army, and one's in the Coast Guard, in Homer. So we said, 'you know, let's go. It's our last hurrah. I probably have five, six, seven years left of being a good, productive fire chief.' And we saw Unalaska. We did a lot of research on the area, and this is where we decided we wanted to to come and be part of this community. So here we are.
KUCB: So it sounds like you have some connections to Alaska and you've worked in some small fire departments around the country. I know you were looking up here, but why specifically Unalaska? What was it that attracted you here?
SHIPP: Well, we're kind of adventurous and we think that this is a pretty good, adventurous place to come to. You know, there are some drawbacks that we found [like] not being able to talk on the phone without the phone connection dropping or the Internet without the Internet to dropping. But the community that's here reminded me of home. Everybody kind of knows what everybody's doing. And everybody cares what you're doing, and that's a little different. You know, Webster had a population of about 12,000 people at night, but 250,000 people during the day. So it was one of those communities that nobody knew who you were. Nobody. And nor do they care. So when I got back home, I finally realized how much we missed it. And that if we were going to do something else again, we want to at least be somewhere that the people know each other and care about each other because I did eleven years where nobody cared at all, even about life. And it's a breath of fresh air to come back to a community that has that sense of family, no matter who you are. So we're looking forward to it.
KUCB: I know that you were briefly suspended from your position last year. I was wondering, can you speak a little bit about that?
SHIPP: You bet. Had a new mayor come in. She really wanted to put in her people. I'll say this, and I'm not going to talk bad about anybody, but her husband is now the police chief and her step brother is now the fire chief. So there's a lot of story in the middle of that..it was it was time to go. Eleven years is plenty of time for a fire chief there. So it was a good move and needed to happen. And we're glad to be here.
KUCB: And so we've had a long string of fire chiefs here in the past that haven't stayed for very long in the community. How long do you anticipate remaining in Unalaska? And also, what are you most looking forward to during your time here?
SHIPP: I think I'm good for another five or seven years before I get to a point that I'm not physically able and probably wouldn't be able to do too much after that. And this is one of those positions that as a fire chief, not only am I the guy who, you know, send the department to go do things, I need to be able to do them to. Some of the things that I'm looking forward to are... because this is kind of a unique situation, and it's kind of my forte, is to take a department that's been kind of in limbo for a while and come in and move them to a point where they need to be. My plan is to stay here until that's done. You asked earlier about what my qualifications were. That's kind of it. In Washington, I was actually headhunted up there to take the department...they were actually four departments...and to join those departments together to make them more efficient and to work better together. And then in Webster, when I got there, it was an all volunteer fire department in the middle of Houston. And then it's now a career fire department and everybody's a paramedic there. So that's my qualifications. This is to take a department that I think, and the city thinks, and the community thinks, hey, we can really move this to something great. Not that it's not great now, but there is always room for improvement. And that's what we're gonna try to do.
KUCB: What kind of recreational stuff are you looking forward to on this island? We live in a pretty unique place. Are there things you're looking forward to?
SHIPP: Fishing. My parents have a house on the Red River and we do a lot of cat fishing and we'll go out and then in two days catch a thousand pounds of fish. But I've never been anywhere that has a dip net season. I mean, you're thinking dip net? That means there have got to be so many fish here that you just dip them out of the river. I cannot wait to see that. So if there's anybody out there looking for a good deckhand to go out there, I would be more than happy to oblige.
KUCB: Is there anything else that I should have ask you or you'd like to share at this time other than we're just excited to be here?
SHIPP: We’re gonna try to plug into the community anywhere that we can. And from what we've seen, I think the community is going to accept us with open arms and we'll be seeing you wherever we can see you.
KUCB: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
SHIPP: You bet. Thank you. And I appreciate it and I'm sure we'll have many other opportunities to talk.