Firefighters and hospital workers are in the business of saving lives. Stan Thompson has found a niche in both professions— one as an employee and the other as a volunteer.
Thompson, director of facilities for Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, started out as a hosptial mechanic. It was a job with benefits and possibilities. However, at the time, he was open to working in a different field.
But in the late summer of 1983, Thompson made an irrevocable decision to stay with the hospital, all on account of a little girl who was snatched from the jaws of death through CPR and other life-saving measures.
She was brought to the hospital unconscious after being plucked by the Coast Guard from the icy waters on the west side of Kodiak Island where her grandfather’s boat sank. The elderly skipper died in the incident.
Marty Nemiroff, a Coast Guard cold water survival expert, was brought on scene to attempt to revive her. Through Nemiroff’s help, the little girl was resuscitated.
Thompson, along with virtually everyone at the hospital, assisted in the little girl’s recovery.
The next morning the girl was running down the halls in her pajamas, as happy as can be, Thompson recalled. She broke a record by being in the water longer than any resuscitated drowning victim.
“She was a miracle child.”
She was also a sign to Thompson that he should continue working to “provide a place for those kinds of miracles to happen.”
Thompson started out as a maintenance mechanic when the facility was known as the Kodiak Island Hospital. It was located in the building that houses the Specialty Clinic and Care Center. He worked under Don Kuiper, who he met before moving to Kodiak.
Don and his wife Shirley were close friends of Thompson’s family in Albuquerque, where Thompson spent his high school and post-high school years.
Thompson visited the Kuipers in Kodiak in August of 1977, fell in love with the place immediately and decided to live here.
“It was foggy, misty and rainy. I had just left Albuquerque in 100-plus degree temperature. When I got here there were fish in the streams. I was thoroughly enthralled.”
Once Thompson completed a tour with the Air Force, he and his wife Susan made the move. They arrived in October 1977. Being a “desert rat” who lived in scorching New Mexico for 20 years, Susan wasn’t too sure about their new home when it rained for six weeks straight after their arrival.
For a man who loved to hunt and fish, Kodiak was ideal.
Besides being an air frame mechanic for Kodiak Western, Thompson also crewed on a commercial fishing boat. He started working for the hospital in 1980.
“Don was doing primary maintenance. He offered the job, but I was hesitant to take it because of our close friendship.”
Within a year after Thompson was hired the administration was discussing the possibility of either renovating the hospital or building a new one.
In 1988, Thompson became facilities director and a critical player in the construction of the new hospital.
“It took us 16 years from the time we started looking at it until we moved into the facility in 1997,” Thompson said.
At the time of transition there were some 150 employees to accommodate. There are 250 today.
“As we were building the structure, areas in the old portion of the hospital were being modified and changed around at the same time. We got into a lot of movement of different departments.”
Settling into the new building carried more challenges, such as finding the source of an air leak in the fuel supply line.
“The line was sucking air, but not leaking fuel,” Thompson said. “It was hard to diagnose and locate. It took quite awhile to find it.”
Because of the weak pressure caused by the air leak, the pumps lost their prime. Eventually the pumps failed and so did the boilers, a potentially disastrous situation.
“We didn’t have a back-up plan” that early in the game, Thompson said. “I ended up jumping into my truck, driving to Warner Tire to get a forklift. Then I apprehended a 500-gallon fuel tank from Bill Bacchus.
“I sent one employee down to buy hoses at a hydraulic shop. I also contacted the fuel company to give us fuel.
“From start to finish we had fuel back to the boilers in 45 minutes. You do whatever you have to do in order to keep the systems up.”
Overseeing the myriad of systems it takes to keep the lights and heat on is one of many ever-growing responsibilities that comes with Thompson’s job.
When he began work, there were about 65 pieces of biomedical equipment, he said. Now there are around 1,400 that he and his crew of four maintain.
He is in charge of all aspects of the physical building, inside and outside, and the majority of equipment in the hospital.
“We have to be operational at all times,” said Borghy Holm, PKIMC communications coordinator. “Stan does a great job to make sure that we have all the equipment to do that. He is a great advocate for facility needs and grant funding” to pay for those needs.
“Between two important jobs, Stan has put in 50 years of service to the community. That’s practically his whole life.”
The other job is Thompson’s volunteer work for the Bayside Fire Department. He started in 1990.
He and fellow firefighters came close to giving their lives battling a fire that occurred at a residence on Spruce Cape within six months of his firefighting venture. The Bayside and City Fire Departments responded. Although the fire did a great deal of damage, it could have been much worse.
“That was a frightening fire where we had multiple vehicles, multiple fuel sources that were on fire,” Thompson said.
The fire, ignited by a battery charger, quickly spread, getting dangerously close to the house, vehicles and fuel tanks.
One of the casualties was a truck carrying two large fuel tanks. Diesel was boiling inside one and gas inside the other. Vapors were coming off.
“The frame of the truck got so hot that it couldn’t support the weight. It leaned over. The diesel tank slid, struck the ground and exploded.”
The impending danger associated with heat and explosions made Thompson wonder if he really wanted to be a volunteer fireman.
“The flames stopped within 15 feet of me while I was waiting on water. I had no protection.”
Fortunately he got access to a water line in the nick of time.
“We saved the house from burning,” Thompson said. “It took at least two to three hours to get the fire under control. We had fireballs that went up. Cans were going as high as the trees. It was a close call.”
One of the firefighters filmed the action on videotape. It is available at Bayside Fire Station.
“As a volunteer, I’ve done just about everything at Bayside,” Thompson said. “I learned all of the engineering duties drove vehicles and moved up to lieutenant.”
He was part of the first entry team that goes into the burning building to attack the fire. Because of health issues, he was forced to give up that dangerous activity. He continued assisting with fire fighting operations.
“I ended up doing training associated with arson investigation.”
Thompson said the number of fire calls in the early 1990s was much higher than it is today. He attributes that declining number to stricter building codes, improved building materials and the law of survival of the fittest: The poorly built structures that were going to burn up are now gone.
Thompson hasn’t been active with Bayside for the past 18 months. However, he continues to be involved in the business of saving lives. Whenever he questions his decision to stay at the hospital, he remembers that little girl, running gleefully through the halls.
There is another little girl who comes into the picture. His granddaughter Autumn Rose Nugent was the first baby born at PKIMC in 2010.