‘Big Blue’ Fire Truck Departs Unalaska For St. George

Big Blue' aboard the F/V Farwest Leader. Credit: Annie Ropeik
Big Blue’ aboard the F/V Farwest Leader. Credit: Annie Ropeik

A big blue fire truck is on its way from Unalaska to the Pribilof island of St. George. The truck has been ready to go for almost a year, but until now, the two communities had no way to move it.

They found their solution in a crab boat.

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The truck is being lifted off the Trident Seafoods dock by a crane and lowered onto the deck of the Farwest Leader. This fishing boat just offloaded their last haul of king crab. And now:

Kyle Craig: “We’re putting a firetruck on a boat. On a 109-foot crab boat.”

St. George has been trying to get the aging fire truck, known as Big Blue, to their island since May 2012. That’s when they bought Big Blue from the Sitka Fire Department for a dollar. They’d been without a working fire truck for 2 years.

St. George’s mayor, Pat Pletnikoff, says they tried every option they could find. Big Blue was too big to travel on any ferry, so the town arranged to have it flown out by the Air National Guard during a training exercise. But the exercise was canceled.

In the meantime, Pletnikoff says the need for a new fire truck became clearer than ever:

Pletnikoff: “Our carpenter shop that was owned by our village corporation burned down. Ironically, that’s probably, eh, 2, 300 feet from our public safety building on St. George, and had we had a fire truck that we could connect and get water to it, we might have been able to do something about the fire.”

Almost a year ago, the state paid for a barge to move the fire truck. It was too big to fit in St. George’s harbor, so instead, they dropped the truck off in Unalaska.

Pletnikoff: “And since that time, of course, we’ve tried everything that we could to find a way to get it to St. George.”

In the end, Trident Seafoods donated the use of the vessels the town needed for the final push — a freighter with a crane that can handle a 10-ton fire truck, and a crab boat that can safely navigate St. George’s shallow harbor.

Once the crew of the Farwest Leader chained the truck down on their deck, they got some basic instructions to pass along to St. George.

Senior Fire Captain Zac Schasteen has been taking care of the truck recently, and he tells deckhand Kyle Craig how to turn it on:

Schasteen: “I don’t know how familiar they are with the engine.”

Craig: “Okay.”

Schasteen: “But just remember — turn that on, turn them both on…”

[sound of switches being flipped and truck ignition]

Craig: “Oh yeah.”

They run through all the horns and switches, plus the most important piece of equipment:

Schasteen: “You’ve got a siren, just turn that all the way up.”[sound of siren]

The fire truck is on its way to St. George. But even now, there are still a few kinks in the plan.

There wasn’t a crane in St. George to get the truck back off the crab boat until last month. Mayor Pletnikoff says one was just shipped in for another project.

Pletnikoff: “So we have the equipment. But the individual that was operating the equipment injured himself and had to go back to Anchorage. So that left us with someone who’s operating the crane but doesn’t have the kind of experience that I am totally, totally comfortable with — but can do the job.”

Another option would be to send the Farwest Leader over to St. Paul first, to pick up a trained crane operator. Either way, Pletnikoff says they’ll find a way to get the truck off the boat.

Pletnikoff: “I like to look at all the options and look at all the possibilities, so if I can do something that’s gonna be a little more convenient for the overall project, I’m gonna do that.”

And once it’s done, he says the town is going to welcome their truck in style. They’re planning a parade in its honor, and he says they’re going to paint the town’s name and official emblem — a fur seal — on Big Blue’s side.