Thursday, 28 May 2020


The local Whitianga boy who became a firefighter in Alaska

Warren Lee, son of well-known Whitianga residents Shirwin and Judy Lee, has been based in southeast Alaska for the past 25 years, where he works as a full-time firefighter in the town of Ketchikan on Revillagigedo Island.

Warren was passionate about becoming a firefighter from a young age and joined the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade once he graduated from Mercury Bay Area school in 1989. Three years later he relocated to America where he continued pursuing a career as a firefighter. 

At the end of 1993, Warren relocated again, this time to Ketchikan, where he has resided with his Idaho-born wife, Becky, and son, Isaac, ever since.

Revillagigedo Island boasts a population of nearly 14,000 people. Fishing, forestry, and tourism are the principal industries. The island is made up of stunning natural pine and cedar forests, residents enjoy mild rainforest temperatures and there is never a shortage to do. Warren particularly enjoys boating and salmon catching, especially with Isaac in tow.

Warren works on 48/96 shifts as a firefighter, meaning a general on-call shift for him runs from 7:00am Monday to 7:00am Wednesday. A typical day, in between call-outs, involves a morning workout, equipment checks and repair work if necessary. Then there is lunch and training. From 5:00pm onwards until the next morning, Warren and his colleagues are free to do as they please, although they must remain on-call for possible emergencies. They even have a fire boat to be employed for on-water incidents.

The number of call-outs Warren and his colleagues receive is approximately 10 to 15 in a 48-hour period. Warren recalls a particularly devastating event for the Ketchikan community that occurred in the Christmas period of 2007, when they received a call reporting a house fire at 6:10am on the morning of 15 December. Sadly three children passed away as a result of smoke inhalation.

As well as responding to fire emergencies, Warren and his colleagues also respond to calls for medical occurrences, including heart attacks victims.      

The medical certificates of Alaskan firefighters must be revaluated and renewed every two years, so there is always more workouts and physical training to be done.

Warren and his family have been holidaying in New Zealand a few months ago. They have visited Great Barrier Island and explored many parts of the North Island in a campervan. Warren says it is a possibility that he will move back to New Zealand with Becky and Isaac in the future, although he thoroughly enjoys his job as a firefighter and falls in love with Alaska more and more each day.

Becky says the natural beauty of New Zealand is absolutely spectacular.

Warren has the option to retire from firefighting in Alaska in March next year, but it is likely that he will continue for at least the next five years.

Who would have thought that a local Whitianga boy would eventually become a firefighter in Alaska!

Caption - Warren Lee (back left) with his family - father Shirwin (far left), mother Judy, son Isaac, brother Andrew and wife Becky. 


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