Emergency Services Director Bill Gamble is resigning after nearly 27 years of service as a responder in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, a vast region including some 25,000 square miles with an often extreme environment of rogue glacial rivers, hurricane force winds, and fire-spreading black spruce.
His career spanned large-scale disasters from the Millers Reach Fire to the recent Sockeye Fire in which up to 1,000 sled dogs had to be evacuated quickly. In 1996, Gamble was a new fire chief during the Millers Reach Fire, likely still the most destructive fire in Alaska as far as buildings destroyed. He served during three other federally-declared Mat-Su disasters, the windstorm in 2003, the floods in 2006 and as the Operations Section Chief when flood waters infiltrated Talkeetna in 2012. He responded most recently to the two State-declared disasters of the Sockeye Wildfire in Willow and the erosion by the Matanuska River in Butte.
"He's done a great job," wrote his peer Ken Barkley, Deputy Director of Fire. "He will be missed by all. He has other opportunities that only come around once. Director Gamble will always be a part of our family," Barkley wrote.
"Our tremendous loss, his gain," said Borough Manager John Moosey. "Bill has led us through dire times well."
Gamble said he is resigning to work on a project with his family.
“After twenty-one years as an on-call responder, over four years as a full-time fire chief, and almost two years as the Director of Emergency Services, I have decided to resign my position with the Mat-Su Borough," wrote Gamble. "I have been contemplating for some time leaving public service for private business, and after careful consideration I realize that an opportunity has presented itself that is too exciting to pass up. I am proud of the accomplishments the Department of Emergency Services has made during my tenure as Director and I am looking forward to the challenges awaiting me as I start a new life outside of public service. I am extremely proud of the staff and responders that make up the Mat-Su Borough Department of Emergency Services and it has been my pleasure to support and work with them over the years.”
Gamble has worked 21 years as an on-call responder and six as a full time responder. He became a responder with the Big Lake Fire Department in May of 1990. He became a full time Fire Chief on January 11, 2011. In April, 2015, he was promoted to Director of Emergency Services, a department with 450 responders and staff, eight fire service areas spanning more than 600 square miles and an areawide EMS, Rescue and Water Rescue, and HazMat Teams. The busiest department here, Central Mat-Su Fire Department, is the second largest fire department in Alaska.
"I think the absolute world of Bill, and this a huge loss," said northern Borough area Assembly Member Randall Kowalke by phone. "He had the respect of the employees, of the community and he brought our organization light years ahead. We will, in tribute to him, make sure we continue with the other tasks that are yet to be accomplished," Kowalke said.
Big Lake area Assembly Member Dan Mayfield said he was "surprised" and "saddened." "We're losing a great leader and a great advocate for public safety," Mayfield said. "I wish him the best of luck in his personal endeavors going forward. Bill brought the Borough camaraderie and team building to the EMS and Fire department," Mayfield said.
Dr. Barbara Doty, Assembly Member for the northern Palmer and northern Wasilla areas said Gamble was reliable. "Bill has implemented clear accountability and clear vision and goals and data to see progress toward those goals. He's worked hard to build an amicable relationship between the Assembly and EMS leadership," Doty said.
Gamble's last day as Director will be Feb. 3. He said that he would facilitate the transition of his duties. "It has been a pleasure working with you and all of the MSB staff over the last 22 months. One of the highlights of my tenure as Director was rebuilding and refocusing the DES Fire, Rescue, and EMS systems, emphasizing operations and customer service," he wrote.
With Gamble's departure goes some historical knowledge of disaster response in the Mat-Su. View the TV commercial on fire prevention, produced in-house, with Gamble and Forestry's Norm McDonald.
View this video of Gamble discussing erosion last summer on the Matanuska River.
Photos at right: Gamble newly promoted as Director and Gamble in the mock press conference for Alaska Shield.