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Anchorage fire chief Denis LeBlanc retires; city deciding replacement

Anchorage Fire Chief Denis LeBlanc retired Friday after nearly three years on the job, officials said.

A successor to LeBlanc will be named in a few weeks, said Kristin DeSmith, spokeswoman for Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Jodie Hettrick, the fire department's deputy chief of operations, is serving as interim chief.

LeBlanc, who is 70, said he told the administration of his decision in early May. He said he has loved the job, but he's been working on and off for 53 years, including a few decades in the oil industry.

"After 53 years working, it's time," LeBlanc said.

The fire chief, who is appointed by the mayor, oversees an annual budget of about $95 million and about 385 employees. It's a job with some turnover: The department has had about a half-dozen chiefs in the past nine years, said the president of the local fire union, Mike Stumbaugh.

LeBlanc came to work for Berkowitz in July 2015 from the engineering company CH2MHill (now CH2M and Jacobs), where he had been director of maintenance and operations on North Slope.

In the early 2000s, LeBlanc worked as a consultant on Anchorage Fire Department budget operations. He then filled in for a stint as budget director under Mayor George Wuerch. During the administration of Mayor Mark Begich, LeBlanc served as city manager.

When he took over as fire chief, the department had consistently struggled to meet its budget. After curtailing some operations, the department finished about a half-million dollars under-budget in 2017, LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc also oversaw efforts to add more ambulances and firefighters and restructure the department to focus more heavily on emergency medicine, which make up the majority of the department's calls. He ended his tenure well-liked by fire union members, earning their respect after coming in without a fire background, said Stumbaugh, the union president.

LeBlanc said he felt comfortable leaving after Berkowitz was re-elected in April. He said the administration was coming up with a "short list" of replacements.

The fire chief can earn up to $172,000 in salary. Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly boosted the salary about 30 percent since LeBlanc was first hired, as part of broader salary increases for top police and fire executives. The administration said the higher salaries aimed to fix a situation where a promotion meant a pay cut from a lower-ranking job.

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