FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Social distancing continues to disrupt lives and plans, and birthday parades are becoming a common replacement for parties. But one parade held on Sunday was a little more special.
Bud Rotroff celebrated his 80th birthday with a surprise parade from the Interior fire departments. (John Dougherty/KTVF)
"This is about a huge mentor to the fire service in Interior Alaska and I'd say the state of Alaska. His name is Bud Rotroff," said Fairbanks Fire Department Acting Chief Todd Chambers. "He is the foundation for most of our careers. He has taught everybody around here something at some point."
Rotroff turned 80 on Sunday and his friends weren’t able to help celebrate the traditional way.
"Considering what we are going through right now, we can't just all get together and throw him a party, so we threw him a parade," Chambers said.
Rotroff’s longtime friend and coworker Robert Wells, a battalion chief with the North Star Volunteer Fire Department was instrumental in setting up the parade.
"I got in cahoots with Salcha and we kinda brought this together. I contacted all the departments, before I could even finish my spiel they said they said where do we sign up," Wells said.
They quickly got almost every fire department in the interior to join in the parade. Now that the parade was set up, all that was left to do was surprise Rotroff.
"I looked and saw the engine coming and no body coming out of the stores and I knew it wasn't an evacuation. So it was pretty, pretty amazing," Rotroff said.
As the apparatus formed a semi-circle around him in the parking lot of the North Pole Safeway, Rotroff got out of his car to wave and blow kisses to the crowed of firefighters.
One of the firefighters walked up to him in a hazmat suit, brought him some cards and a present with toilet paper and Corona Beer, and then gave him a safe hug.
"It's absolutely incredible that all these fire departments were represented. So many of the people have been a part of my life for years now and they continue to be loved ones in my family. I certainly appreciate everyone of them,” Rotroff said.
So who is this special man that they wanted to honor? Rotroff started his career smoke jumping in California. After coming to Alaska he worked as the fire chief for the Eielson Fire Department. He also worked with the Department of Forestry as a wildland firefighter for many years. Up until four years ago he continued to do a three mile hike in under 45 minutes to get his red card so he could be certified in wildland firefighting.
He also helped to start the University of Alaska Fairbanks, fire science program.
"Bud is a personal friend and he means a lot to me. He is a mentor, he is the kind of guy I want to aspire to be to, he is the model of what I'd like to be," Chambers said. He added that Rotroff has taught many of the current firefighters in the Interior.
"He is that one common tie everybody knows, from the military to the regular fire departments to the forestry and he has been working with everybody for that long,” said Kato Howard, Acting Fire Staff Officer with the Division of Forestry. “It couldn't be a better tribute to a more fitting person than Bud. Happy birthday Bud."
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