After staying with the city following near-deadly fall, former Anchorage firefighter to move to new position next month
News of Schultz’s termination triggered an online petition in favor of his continued employment at AFD
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Former Anchorage firefighter and paramedic Ben Schultz, who was left on the brink of death after a fall from a 100-foot ladder during a training session in 2017, is set to leave the Anchorage Fire Department in November.
“When you dedicate your adult life and education to serving the public, and public safety,” Schultz said Monday, “it’s difficult to hear that your position will be cut due to budgetary reasons.”
Tuesday, communications shared with Alaska’s News Source indicated Shultz is preparing for a role with the Anchorage Health Department, to begin Nov. 1.
Few details were immediately available on Schultz’s new role, but it is said to be with the Anchorage Health Department’s immunization program, which Schultz noted he is excited about.
Schultz, who said he recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary with AFD, will be terminated from his administrative role with the fire department, largely because of elective budget cuts for the Municipality of Anchorage, he said.
“I do not have any regrets,” Schultz said. “It’s been a very life-changing and humbling experience to give back in a small way to the community that’s supported me.”
Newly-minted Fire Chief Doug Schrage explained that Schultz’s position was designed to be temporary and said Schultz’s leaving the fire department was agreed upon as part of a settlement reached with the prior mayoral administration.
“This special assistant job was created for him, and is not funded,” Schrage said. “As other employment opportunities become available, we’d like to give Ben serious consideration for any other future jobs that come up.
“It does feel like we’ve done all that can be reasonably done to take care of Ben,” he added. “And we want to continue to take care of him. It’s just that there is no funding for this position, and there’s no mechanism to make this temporary position permanent.”
Schultz’s work as a special assistant and archivist for the department was initially scheduled to end this past June, according to Schrage. However, the municipality – and Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson – agreed to keep him on to “better understand what his needs were, what he could do for us, and what we could do for him,” Schrage said.
A spokesperson for the mayor indicated Monday that an intricate agreement has long been in place in preparation for Schultz’s upcoming departure from the force.
“Ben Schultz’s injury was a tragedy that we all wish wouldn’t have happened,” said Corey Young, spokesperson for the mayor’s office, via an email Monday. “Like many first responders injured in the line of duty, sometimes those injuries prevent them from returning to duty.”
Alaska’s News Source requested a copy of the original settlement cited by Schrage and Young, but had not received it by the time of publication. Young maintained Schultz had agreed to a “large settlement with the previous administration,” saying he had received more than $700,000, job retraining and financial management resources from the municipality.
“... he agreed his current unfunded position would end in the summer of 2021,” Young continued, adding that Schultz is also receiving medical retirement benefits and that Schrage has been “incredibly supportive and helpful to assist Ben in finding new employment.”
That’s not enough for more that 2,600 people, however, who at the time of publication had signed an online petition requesting that the municipality continue to employ Schultz.
“Three years later and despite Ben’s accident not allowing him to return to the line of duty at this time, he continues to wake up every working day,” wrote the petition’s author, “and proudly serves the AFD and MOA in his current position in Administration, while actively working towards returning to the line.”
Schultz, though expressing disappointment over the municipality’s decision to cut his position and concern over what may lie ahead, said Monday that he is tremendously grateful for the continued encouragement from his many supporters across the country, including those who joined in on the petition.
“It’s very humbling and honoring to hear how much support there is from the entire community,” he reflected, “both in public safety and otherwise. It’s very eye-opening.
“The recovery process — for those that have followed along — it’s been a roller coaster of a ride,” he continued, “but all things considered, miracle after miracle that I’m here today.”
In an interview Monday, Schrage called Schultz “a valued member of the Anchorage Fire Department,” adding that he’s not surprised thousands of people are part of a call to action surrounding Schultz’s employment with the department.
“He was an excelled firefighter; he’s made an impact in his community,” Schrage said. “So it’s no surprise to me that he now has over 2,000 signatures, in just about a little more than 24 hours.”
Schrage also said he hopes to see Schultz in a different job at the fire department — such as one centered on training, communications, inspections, or something else — in the future.
“There’s lots of work that he’s capable of doing, and he’s such a wonderful human being,” Schrage said. “We don’t want to see him go any more than he wants to leave.”
Schultz said he hasn’t heard if there had been any progress regarding a potential change of heart from the administration on his current position or whether or not some other appropriate position would be available anytime soon.
However, jobs that are specifically not firefighting gigs open occasionally, Schrage said, and it’s always possible that an upcoming opening might fit Schultz well.
“The work that Ben has been doing is meaningful work,” Schrage said. “He has been systematically archiving, cataloguing and digitizing all of our archives. He’s looking at old documents, and photos, and publications and creating a digital record ... so, it’s important work.
“But he and I are staying in communication,” Schrage added, “and I’m hopeful that some opportunity will come forth pretty soon.”
Young, while pointing to the prior agreed-upon setup, said the mayoral administration wishes Schultz well.
“Pursuant to the prior administration’s settlement agreement relating to Ben’s injury and employment,” Young wrote, “Ben agreed that his current position with AFD would end. We wish him well and will continue to help him find a new position that he can be successful in.”
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