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Longtime fire chief, community volunteer Bill Shechter dies

Arcticle from the Daily News Miner:

Bill Shechter

FAIRBANKS — Bill Shechter, who made his mark in Fairbanks as a longtime fire chief and community volunteer, died in Seattle on Tuesday after a massive stroke.       

Shechter, 69, was the face of several local fire departments, with service dating to the 1970s. He spent more than 20 years as chief of the University Fire Department, along with stretches as head of the city of Fairbanks Fire Department and Fairbanks North Star Borough Department of Emergency Operations.

Even in his retirement years, Shechter served as a commissioner for the University Fire Service Area while providing safety inspections for various community organizations.

“He was extremely devoted to the profession … one of those people who eat, drink and sleep it,” Fairbanks city Mayor Jerry Cleworth said.

Shechter began his career as a student firefighter at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1970, eventually working his way up to chief. University Fire Chief Doug Schrage got his start at the department under Shechter and remembers a no-nonsense but approachable leader.

He recalled Shechter taking the fire recruits to Dairy Queen for ice cream on Mondays but also remembered being disciplined after getting in a dorm scuffle during his time as a student.

“He was the chief and there was no question he was the guy in charge,” Schrage said.

The two became closer after Schrage returned to Fairbanks in 2010, when Shechter would come in to discuss department history with new students. The retired chief would even call Schrage with tips about possible fire engine obstructions he’d see during the daily walks he’d make with his golden retrievers through his West Fairbanks neighborhood.

“He just had so much love for this occupation,” Schrage said. “That’s just what he wants to talk about.”

Schrage was the first responder to Shechter’s Palo Verde Avenue home Feb. 21 after the stroke. Shechter was subsequently flown to Seattle for treatment.

After retiring, Shechter spent his time volunteering for community organizations, including Chena Kiwanis, United Way and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

Shechter was secretary of Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad and worked as conductor of the railroad museum’s 114-year-old steam engine that occasionally chugged to life in Pioneer Park. The role was an extension of his fascination with railroads — an entire room at his Palo Verde Avenue home was devoted to a toy train layout, former club president Dan Osborne said.

Osborne said Shechter will be missed for his effective work and infectious attitude.

Friends said they were amazed at Shechter’s ability to juggle all his volunteer commitments into his life, with a daily schedule packed with events.

“He just woke up in the morning and got busy helping other people,” said Samantha Kirstein, executive director for the Fairbanks Community Food Bank.

Shechter is survived by his wife, Patti, and three children. Memorial services are pending.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.

Posted by Anne Weaver - Thursday, 02/28/2013, 04:02 PM -

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