Fairbanks Community Service Patrolman helps those in need

FAIRBANKS — Whether he’s walking city blocks looking for incapacitated inebriates or standing outside his office chatting, like on a recent December day, Community Service Patrol supervisor William Yost is a recognizable figure in downtown Fairbanks.

Yost and his fellow Securitas security staff, who work on the patrol under a contract with the Downtown Fairbanks Association, will sometimes hit the snow- and ice-encrusted pavement for up to 12 miles per day downtown.

On days with more calls to help drunken, outdoor residents — for whom state law requires assistance — Yost and the others drive from call to call, convincing those at-risk folks to come inside and get out of the cold.

In between calls, Yost had a few moments to talk while standing on a Third Avenue sidewalk. The driver of a passing car honked and waved.

Yost’s cellphone rang. It was someone reporting a possible inebriate leaning against a building a few blocks away. Yost said he had to go.

“It’s challenging. It’s exciting. It’s daunting. It’s thrilling,” Yost had said earlier. “It’s the whole gamut of human emotions.”

Growing up in Eden, Idaho — population 400 — everybody knew each other and looked out for each other, Yost said. His father had been in the Army and was friendly with the local cops, so Yost always wanted to work in either law enforcement or the military.

He ended up doing both.

Yost’s career as a military police officer for five years in the Army took him to Germany, Massachusetts and, eventually, to Alaska. During that time, the first Gulf War was raging in the Middle East, but Yost never saw any action there.

“I spent a good portion of that sitting in the day room, with my bags packed, waiting for my name to be called. I was never deployed,” he said.

Yost had grown up hunting and fishing with his dad, who had once been offered a job working security on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and declined. But talking about Alaska turned into a dream to one day head north, and when Yost was offered his duty station of choice upon re-enlisting, he asked to be stationed at Fort Greely.

Yost got out of the Army in late 1994 and early the next year went to work for Pinkerton Security, which Securitas later bought. He also worked as an assistant hunting guide in his off time, a job that took him on hunts from north of Atigun Pass to as far south as the Healy area. Yost still fishes and hunts and also snowshoes, cross-country skis and spends time with his young son and girlfriend.

Yost continued to help guide hunting trips while working security at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, starting in 1999. He said that is where he started to become familiar with some of the same people he would later see on the streets downtown.

In 2011, a supervisor asked him to train to work on the Community Service Patrol.

“She really liked the way that I talked with people,” Yost said. “They saw that I treated them, that I try and treat everybody, with respect at all times.”

Working on the patrol is a fulfilling job, Yost said. For example, he gets to help people in a very direct way. And serving the patrol’s goal of taking care of calls that would otherwise weigh down emergency service providers like police, firefighters and paramedics means those personnel can spend more time dealing with more serious problems, Yost said.

Another supervisor asked Yost recently why he does the job.

“Because it’s that one time when somebody walks up and thanks you,” Yost said. “Whether they’ve been sober a day, a week, a month, six months, a year, it really doesn’t matter. They’re trying. But it’s when they walk up and thank you that it makes everything worth it.”

Yost has stories of that exact scenario playing out: Men that he’s picked up off the street who were too drunk to take care of themselves, sometimes repeatedly, who turned it around and whom he now sees working and contributing to the community.

They are people Yost has witnessed at their worst, “rock bottom,” and he might not see them again for months before getting a chance to follow up, he said.

“The next time I see ‘em, they make a point of walking across the street, coming over and chatting with me,” he said. “And they’re thanking me for always being there for them when they needed somebody, and for always listening, and for helping them when they needed the help.”

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