New Anchorage fire chief is first woman to lead the department

Anchorage Fire Chief Jodie Hettrick (Photo courtesy Municipality of Anchorage)

Anchorage has a new fire chief, and for the first time in the history of Alaska’s largest city, it’s a woman.

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Jodie Hettrick has been appointed to lead the Anchorage Fire Department, according to an announcement Wednesday from the mayor’s office.

Hettrick joined the department in 2012. She has served as acting chief since the previous chief, Denis LeBlanc, retired in May.

Now that her position is official, Hettrick says there are some internal initiatives that can go forward. That includes expanding the management of their emergency medical services.

“Not that we were struggling there, it’s just that as we do more and more emergency medical service response, we should have more assets in place to manage that operation,” Hettrick said. “And it’s just a leap that we haven’t taken, and we’ve needed to take that for a very long time.”

The department has good staffing levels for its first responders but needs to build up other staff, Hettrick said. That might mean adding mechanics, inspectors and others, as well as promoting personnel into some command positions, she said.

As for her promotion, Hettrick said she’s proud and thankful to be the city’s first female fire chief. She said she wants to encourage more women to get into emergency services, and she hopes to offer guidance as a female colleague with more than 30 years of experience.

“Most of my mentors throughout the entire time I’ve been in the service have been men, because there weren’t any other women in these positions to be mentored by,” Hettrick said. “So I think that that’s why it’s a big deal. There should be more women in the fire service, so that more of them move up through the ranks and are given these types of opportunities.”

Hettrick was an assistant chief at the Anchorage Fire Department, then deputy chief in charge of day-to-day operations. Her past employers include the state Division of Fire and Life Safety, the Valdez Fire Department and the Central Mat-Su Fire Department, where she got her start in emergency services.