When a call comes in, first responders need to be ready for anything at anytime.
The 2014 Alaska Fire Conference wrapped up Saturday with 250 firefighters from across the state on the Kenai Peninsula to receive fire training while also learning from national fire instructors. The theme of the conference was “Physical Preparedness and Operational Readiness,” two mantras firefighters live by, said keynote speaker Dave McGrail, assistant Chief from the Denver Fire Department.
McGrail addressed the firefighters who attended at the opening ceremony Sept. 17 at Kenai Central High School. He spoke about how firefighters can achieve excellence by building strong teams within their departments. Those teams must have the desire to serve, courage to act and ability to perform, he said.
State and local politicians welcomed the firefighters at the opening ceremony and thanked them for their service. Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, who lost his father in a fire, said his father opened a fire station on the last day he was alive.
“Never stop training,” Treadwell said. “You are on the front lines protecting live and property. I encourage you to pay attention to what goes on in government. We know how important your needs are.”
Seminars throughout the week included rapid intervention team training, during which firefighters simulated rescues in live fire exercises, and helicopter underwater egress training, during which attendees were submerged in a pool and had to escape from the helicopter cage.
Throughout the conference, participants also had the opportunity to attend training for shipboard firefighting, fire truck operations, industrial firefighting, and rescue techniques like procedures for cutting up vehicles with extrication tools and swift water boat rescue exercises on the Kenai River.
The conference attracted firefighters from all over the state, including remote villages from the North Slope Borough.
Jimmie Kagak, from the Wainwright Volunteer Fire Department, said he enjoyed the opportunity to attend classes and hear from national instructors like McGrail and Chief Dennis Ruben from the Washington D.C. Fire Department.
Kagak, a 20-year veteran firefighter, said he attended the conference to learn from his peers so he could bring the knowledge back home to share with his volunteers. Recruitment has been one of the biggest challenges, he said. The village of Wainright, is located 72 miles southwest of Barrow and has a population of about 550 people, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
“It’s important to keep volunteers in the department engaged with positive training and help them advance in their career opportunities to get high training we don’t normally offer,” he said. “Here I get to meet up with friends and chiefs with years of experience. I just enjoy being around them and listen to what they have to say.”
Florence Tagarook, from the Anaktuvuk Pass Volunteer Fire Department, said the entire conference experience with live training has been fun.
“The training is serious business with people who have valuable skills to share,” she said. “All the classes I picked out are related to what I could see and need to be ready for. This has been a good trip with helpful instructors.”
Kagak, said he took a training class on critical incident special management. He said he left the hands-on live training to the younger firefighters.
“The managerial classes are good for me to learn from my peers,” he said. “Live training is valuable for the new guys. I was once a young buck wanting to prove myself. In this job you learn something new everyday.”
On Thursday, a class on aircraft firefighting at the Beacon Training Center in Kenai demonstrated the proper techniques of aircraft fire suppression. Fairbanks Fire Department Chief Dan Grimes and Tommy Carver from the Kenai Fire Department instructed firefighters as they practiced suppression on jet engine fires from the exterior of a plane, to going inside and putting out fires in the cockpit and cabin.
Carver said the scenario is unique because the fire path can be programmed and can go from one side of the cabin to overhead and will force firefighters to react and suppress the fires. Two hose teams of two approach the fire and spray large volumes of water at a fiery blaze.
Richard Lewis from the Kotzebue Fire Department said he took the aircraft fire training because his volunteer department also services Ralph Wien Memorial Airport, which is the only way people can access the small coastal community.
“It is good to know how to fight an aircraft fire in the event an accident happens,” he said. “Now I know what to do and can bring that knowledge back to my department and educate those guys.”
Lewis, who was a volunteer firefighter for two years but spent the last three as a paid staff firefighter, said firefighting in Kotzebue is difficult because the department has a small staff and the structures are not sturdy. The department hasn’t experienced a structure fire yet this year and deal with a lot of medical calls, he said.
“With many old structures we focus on defensive fire suppression from the outside because inside the building may collapse,” he said.
After a week of classroom learning and hands on training, the firefighters wrapped up the conference Saturday with a friendly competition.
After a pancake breakfast at the Kenai Fire Department at Kenai Municipal Airport Station, was the Cameron Carter Memorial 3.43 K run. Carter was a Central Emergency Services paramedic and one of four who died in a helicopter crash in 2007. The race was is 3.43 kilometers long to honor the 343 New York City firefighters who died on 9/11.
Many participating firefighters ran in full gear with oxygen tanks and masks.
Local teams from Nikiski and Kenai took on firefighters from Sitka, Girdwood and Kodiak in a timed firefighter skills competition. The first event pitted two firefighters against each other to see who can put all their gear on the fastest. During the next event, two challengers raced to see who could be the first to extinguish a barrel fire.
Teams of four put their ladder set-up to the skills in the next event. Three firefighters ran with a ladder, set it up on a platform, lifted it up 30 feet in the air and stabilized the base while the fourth member climbed up to ring a bell.
Representing the Kenai Fire Department was Battalion Chief Tony Prior and firefighters Sam Sathathite, Justin Horton and Scott Summers. The Nikiski Fire Department team was comprised of Steven Robertson, Elijah Deatherage, Olivia Hart, and Holly Behrens.
The next event was a team relay that required each competitor to hook up hose to a fire hydrant and connect three sets of hose that stretched 175 feet long, then run back and unhook the nozzles. The Nikiski and Kenai teams won their respective heads against Bayside Fire Department and Sitka Fire Departments.
The final event asked the team of firefighters to flip over a 500-pound tire down one end and roll the tire around a course before resting it back at the starting spot. Deatherage, an on-call Nikiski firefighter said the competition was a fun way to end the week.
Kenai Fire Chief Jeff Tucker said all the preparation leading up to the conference made for a successful week. He said the weather helped make the conference pleasant for all the traveling guests and the information learned will benefit communities around the state.
Conference spokesperson Bud Sexton with the Nikiski Fire Department said next year’s conference will be in Seward.
“Fire service training is everything,” Sexton said. “To be able to get exposure from all these individuals — who are all top notch trainers in their field — it is valuable.”