SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Director of Public Safety addresses Chamber
By Marie L. Monyak


January 06, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - Speaking at the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, keynote speaker Rich Leipfert announced current changes being implemented by the Department of Public Safety. The father of three young women, Leipfert came to Ketchikan in 1998 and has been the Director of Public Safety since 2004, overseeing both the city Police and the Fire Departments for Ketchikan.

The key issue the Chamber of Commerce was most interested in recently was the process developers must now go through to receive approval of their plans through the State.  It has been felt that the process can be streamlined by allowing local government to approve the plans.  This year's budget allowed for an additional inspector and it is hopeful that the application process will be finished within the next six months.  Once completed, developers and architects will be able to submit their plans locally and receive their feedback in a timelier manner.

jpg Director of Public Safety

Blaine Ashcraft, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce,
and Rich Leipfert, Director of Public Safety.
Photo by Marie L. Monyak ©2006

Leipfert next addressed the current 911 emergency phone system.  "For years, we have had an antiquated 911 system, based on technology today," Leipfert stated.  "Federal mandates throughout the years have increased the requirements for 911 systems."  Currently all 911 calls are answered by the Police Department.  If a citizen calls in to report a fire, after relaying the information to the dispatcher, the caller is then transferred to the Fire Department where they must repeat the same information.  The significant upgrade to central dispatch, expected in May, will allow them to eliminate this problem by answering and dispatching all calls for Police, Fire and EMS.  This change includes hiring two new dispatchers who, along with the current ones, will be required to learn the new protocol as well as receive EMS training.  The end result will be a faster response time by the emergency services.
It should be noted that 911 calls outside of the city limits that require the State Troopers will still be transferred to Trooper's dispatch, as the State has their own protocol.
The Chamber members were also told of a much more subtle change occurring within the Police Department.  Leipfert said; "Recently we sent some police supervisors and Sergeants to Texas for training in customer service and as a result there is a transition going on right now."  "This is a cultural change in the department where the officers will be more customer service oriented."  Leipfert was happy to report that after a hundred years of traditional law enforcement, the changes are progressing well.
Once the floor was opened for questions one member asked Leipfert if all the new equipment that both the North and South Tongass Fire Departments have purchased recently is compatible with city equipment.  The Director assured everyone that while the vehicles may be different, the protective gear, compressor systems and hoses
are compatible.   Leipfert further stated that with the Homeland Security funds that they've received, they have been very careful to ensure that the new equipment can be used across the board.

jpg Rick Leipfert

Rich Leipfert, Director of Public Safety, speaks before members of
the Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
Photo by Marie L. Monyak ©2006

Another question that inspired a great deal of interest was posed by Renee Schofield of Tongass Substance Screening.  Citing the recent disaster preparedness drill, Schofield wanted to know what she, as a business owner, should tell her people to do and where to meet, should a disaster strike.  Using the examples of a tsunami going up Carlanna, or a disaster on the cruise ship docks during tourist season, Schofield felt the public needs to be better informed on how to react to these situations.  Leipfert was in agreement and informed everyone that the Department is working on two items that will address these concerns.  First, Ketchikan would be tapping into federal funds for a tsunami warning system similar to the one used by Sitka.  Secondly, the disaster preparedness exercise scheduled for early fall of this year will be participated in by both federal and state agencies and will address the issue of how best to inform the public and businesses on evacuation procedures.
Blaine Ashcraft, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, asked Leipfert if he knew the number of vehicle roll-overs on North Tongass since December 1st.   Although Leipfert didn't have the number readily available he stated that the number of accidents on North Tongass is a significant issue and that the straightening of the highway at Mud Bight was a result of the concern over the problem.  Ashcraft further stated that would like to see a campaign that included pictures of the wrecked vehicles posted at the high school, to increase driver safety awareness.
All in all, the luncheon was a success in that the members were brought up to speed on the changes that are currently in the works, also the expected changes in the near future, for both the Police and Fire Departments, all for the betterment of Ketchikan.

The Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce's next luncheon is scheduled for January 11th. The keynote speaker will be the District Executive for Scouting, Amy Russell.

Also coming up is the Chamber's 39th Annual Awards Banquet which will take place at the Ted Ferry Civic Center on Saturday, January 14th. The keynote speaker for that event will be Governor Frank Murkowski. For reservations or ticket information, contact the Chamber at 225-3184.


Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Marie at

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