Jim Doyle, Kenai’s first volunteer fire chief, chats with Kenai mayor Brian Gabriel at the opening of the ‘Historic Buildings of Kenai’ exhibit, now on display at the fine art center in Old Town through June.Credit Shaylon Cochran/KDLLEdit | Remove
A new exhibit on display at the Kenai Fine Art Center in Old Town focuses on Kenai’s more recent history, and features original paintings by Thor Evenson based on the town’s salmon fishing heritage. The exhibit also highlights some of the city’s historic buildings, including the art center itself which served as a center for the fire and police departments over the years.
Kenai’s first volunteer fire chief, Jim Doyle. Now 81, Doyle contributed photos for the exhibit of those early days more than 60 years ago and recounted some stories for KDLL’s Shaylon Cochran.
“I don’t know if we rebuilt the old fire station or if tore down and built new. The blocks on the wall, I hauled those from Soldotna in my truck. That would have been 1961 or so.
I don’t know what year it was the city decided to put a paid chief in here. And Frank Wisecarver, he was at the army base Wildwood at that time, I went out and visited him and told him what the city wanted so when he got done out there, he became the paid chief here. And then he instigated getting the new fire station built (on Main Street). A lot of the volunteers to start with stayed there, but pretty soon, the volunteers didn’t like being told what to do by the paid fire department, so that gradually ended the volunteers. And beside that, the city needed round-the-clock people in the station all the time. That’s when the city had to go to a full time, paid department….about 1972 or 73.
When I first came here, Charlie Archer had a store here. That was in 1958. He had a siren on top of his grocery store and whenever a fire or something happened, he’d set that off. Then, Judy McMaster had the dispatch and radio and we had CBs in our house. Whenever there’d be a call come in, she’d put the word out on the radios and whoever got to the station first was the driver, whether that was the fire truck or the ambulance. We did have some medical training, but as far as the operation of the department, it was mostly self-trained and trained by the people who were already volunteers.
Trying to decide whether to tell you or not...One time we got an ambulance call. It was a little house out there, just this side of Morgan Steel and we got a call out there in the middle of the night. We knocked on the door and the lady of the house opened it and we asked her what’s the problem? Her husband is sitting at the table and she says ‘it’s his problem, go ask him.’ He couldn’t get up. We asked him why not.
“My wife nailed my ear to the table.”
It was kind of humorous. He wouldn’t come into the hospital, but the hammer was still on the table so we pulled the nail out and patched his ear.”