Ambulance calls were ‘off the charts’ in 2021 due to pandemic

CVFD honors Dick Groff for 46 years of accomplishments

From left, Capt. Andrea Whitcomb and Cordova Fire Chief Mike Hicks lead a ceremony memorializing the firefighters who died responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Saturday, Jan. 8, Cordova Volunteer Fire Department members gathered at the Powder House bar and grill to reflect on the challenges and achievements of the past two years, to recognize high-achieving department members and to honor the 343 firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attacks.

Lt. Jesse Poplin rings a bell in memory of the firefighters who died responding to the Sept. 11 attacks. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

In 2020, the CVFD recorded just 16 fire runs, perhaps the department’s lowest number of fire runs ever, Fire Chief Mike Hicks told attendees, who dined on prime rib and shrimp, followed by “Russian pudding.” 2020 also recorded 136 ambulance runs, the same number as the previous year.

In 2021, the department received 30 fire calls and 181 ambulance calls, an extremely high number that Hicks attributed to the influence of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think that’s off the charts for us,” Hicks said. “That’s a phenomenal amount of calls. Whether it’s a minor call or a major call, they all take time.”

Notable events during 2021 included a boat explosion, various vehicle and structure fires, an incident in which an elderly resident’s roof had to be repaired under high winds and a search operation ending in the rescue of a person suffering from hypothermia. The department provided over 25,000 hours of volunteer time to the community through September 2021, Hicks said.

“Many of the things we do are impossible without inter-agency cooperation,” Hicks said, recognizing the department’s partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, the Alaska State Troopers and the Native Village of Eyak. “They’re always there to help… We’ve got a really, really good working relationship that took years and years to establish.”

Cordova Fire Chief Mike Hicks. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Hicks recalled an incident in which the CVFD, the Alaska Wildlife Troopers and the USFS rescued five people who had become stuck in the Sheridan River rapids after their rafts capsized. The five unfortunate rafters were rescued uninjured. Before the incident, Hicks had advised the rafters not to venture down the Sheridan River, he said.

“After we got them all out and got them warm and dry… I walked up and said, ‘Hi, remember me?’” Hicks quipped.

Also in 2021, department members attended an active shooter response training and an urban search-and-rescue class, both of which were funded by grants written by city of Cordova Emergency Management Coordinator Heather Brannon.

Much of the department’s activity from 2020 onward centered on pandemic response. The department purchased about $20,000 in personal respirators for its medics and spent another $30,000 on COVID-safety remodeling for the facilities of the Cordova Police Department, dispatch, Department of Motor Vehicles and Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Hicks said.

The department was fortunate to have plenty of high-quality personal protective equipment available from previous years, he said.

“When other people around the country were looking for stuff, we here in Alaska are perpetual hoarders — we were hoarding long before it was fashionable,” Hicks remarked.

From left, Fire Chief Mike Hicks presents a letter of commendation to Deputy Fire Chief Paul Trumblee. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Hicks also presented a letter of commendation to Deputy Fire Chief Paul Trumblee, recognizing Trumblee for his leadership during his March-August 2020 tenure as incident commander for the Cordova COVID-19 Incident Management Team.

“Everybody in this community, altogether, did a really, really good job preventing what could have been a lot worse,” Hicks said.

From left, Lieutenant Lisa Carroll and Fire Chief Mike Hicks present Dick Groff with a plaque recognizing Groff’s various accomplishments during his 46-year career with the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Dick Groff, who served with the department from 1974-2020, was presented with a large plaque displaying a gold-bladed fire axe. Groff, who joined the department “at the ripe old age of 38,” became one of Alaska’s first certified firefighters, trained hundreds of other firefighters, won a special commendation for saving a person from a drug overdose in 2004, and served as a key member of the department’s disaster management team in 2012, when Cordova received 37 feet of snow, among other accomplishments. Lieutenant Lisa Carroll was the driving force behind the award, department officials said.

“When you’re doing what you love, it’s not hard,” Groff said.

From left, Fire Chief Mike Hicks presents Capt. Micah Renfeldt with a plaque recognizing Renfeldt for 10 years working with the department. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times

Also singled out for special recognition were engineer Jerry LeMaster, a 35-year member of the department, and Capt. Micah Renfeldt, a 10-year member. Carroll and Capt. Stephen Phillips were also honored for their contributions to the department.

Fire Chief Mike Hicks addresses the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department’s annual banquet at The Powder House bar and grill. (Jan. 8, 2022) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/for The Cordova Times