By Melinda Munson

Skagway has a new fire chief, as long as she completes a seven-week Firefighter I course at Illinois Fire Service Institute. The assembly voted 4-2 to approve Interim Fire Chief Emily Rauscher as permanent chief, with assembly members Jay Burnham and Reba Hylton voting no.

Rauscher was EMS director prior to becoming interim chief, and has worked at the fire department for approximately 10 years.

She received praise from her employees who submitted letters of support and testified on her behalf.

Shane Rupprecht, volunteer firefighter, wrote the following:

“Chief Rauscher has shown tremendous leadership qualities and the ability to persevere under difficult circumstances. A leader inspires those around them and has the drive to improve not only themselves but everyone who follows their lead. These are the qualities Skagway needs in a chief and these are the qualities Chief Rauscher has demonstrated in every one of my experiences with her.”

Rauscher took over in late 2021 after Fire Chief Joe Rau retired. She transitioned the department from a mostly volunteer organization that lacked volunteers to one with healthy recruitment and a higher number of paid positions.

She described the current department as “responding at the highest levels of certification and experience we’ve had available to us in Skagway.”

With Rauscher’s background predominantly in EMS and not fire fighting, there was pushback to naming her fire chief. 

“People approached me with concerns about Emily Rauscher’s training to fight fires,” Assemblymember Orion Hanson said.

Burnham noted that other communities fire chief job descriptions required seven to 10 years as a firefighter and three years as a chief or assistant chief.

Paul Meyers, a former employee of the fire department, resigned as a volunteer firefighter in December 2021. 

“I cannot or will not work under someone who is under qualified, risking personal life and safety,” he said. Meyers appears to be the only citizen to have gone on record in opposition to Rauscher’s appointment. 

Those on record spoke of Rauscher’s leadership, dedication, positive attitude and knowledge of the community.

“I think Emily is going to be good. I think we made the right call for stability in Skagway,” Hanson said.

Rauscher is currently in Illinois working on her Firefighter I certification. Deputy Chief Wayne Greenstreet is in charge during her absence. Mayor Andrew Cremata, Borough Manager Brad Ryan, Assemblymember Sam Bass and Greenstreet comprised the hiring committee.