The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

17 complete advanced firefighter training


Heidi Zemach | For The LOG

Two teams of firefighters from the Seward, Bear Creek and Moose Pass fire departments participate in their final Firefighter-2 practical exam-putting out a fire in AVTEC Marine Center's simulated burn facility at Seward Marine Industrial Center using penciling techniques.

(Correction: Robert Mathis is the Deputy Fire Chief, assistant chiefs are supervised by the Deputy Fire Chief Mathis and Fire Chief Eddie Athey.)

Seventeen firefighters from Seward, Bear Creek and Moose Pass volunteer fire departments completed their Alaska Fire Fighter 2 written examinations and completed seven hands-on practical tests at the AVTEC-Alaska's Maritime Training Center on Sunday. Seventeen is a large number certified to become advanced firefighters at one time, said Steve Krouse, assistant chief of the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department. The training gives them higher level skills, and also allows them to work as firefighters wherever they should go in the state of Alaska, he said.

"What it means to our community, is now we've got better trained people. They're used to working with each other so they'll start thinking alike when we start doing fire attacks," said Retired Seward Fire Chief Dave Squires, who still helps the department out with trainings and calls. "It means they'll be more efficient and more effective if they have to come out and help."

Bringing all three fire departments together for training has brought all the departments and students closer, and fostered teamwork which will help any time they are called out to help, Krouse said, "I love the way we all work together now."

"It's been tough but it's been worth it," said Casey Skinner, a newly-promoted lieutenant in the Seward Volunteer Fire Department, and one of five women to complete the advanced training.

"We've been working really hard. It's been a long few weeks, but it's been great as far as team building and we've done a lot of great exercises together." Skinner is a busy woman. She also holds down two day jobs, one as a special education aide at the high school, the other working with the Seward Boys & Girls Club.

"I like helping people. It's nice to kind of get out there and get dirty and help the community, and I work with great men and women. It's been a really, really great time," Skinner said.

The level of dedication of the volunteers, many of who have full-time jobs and families inspires him, Krouse said. They put in 250-270 hours of time into training for the FF-2 test, an equivalent of five days per week over the past two months, including four-hour evening classes and eight-hour trainings on Saturdays and Sundays. Plus they have to attend weekly trainings within their own fire departments, and respond to any calls during their shifts. The Fire Fighter-1 trainings they took earlier lasted between four and six months.

The mild winter helped. Bear Creek typically responds to a handful of wilderness rescues and vehicle accidents each winter, but the lack of snow brought fewer of them, which allowed the volunteers to focus on improving their skills.

The ability to use AVTEC's new training center facility in Seward has also been a huge bonus for the firefighters, as they used to travel to Soldotna for what they can now do locally. In Soldotna, they used a burn trailer that was small and limited compared to AVTEC's new two-story simulated burn facility. It has controlled heat, realistic dark smoke generated by liquid petroleum, and flames of any size they wish are created with the push of a switch. The building can be flushed out and reused in minutes.

Except for the intensity of heat, the simulations are close to fighting a real structure fire, said Robert Mathis, assistant fire chief for the SVFD. For the last practical, firefighters divided into two teams. One made entry with the hose while the other stood at the ready as backup. An "incident commander" stood outside giving orders, and an evaluator inside the building evaluated their work. The firefighters had to demonstrate proper penciling techniques, whereby one sprays water in short bursts onto the ceiling to cool down the gases and prevent the smoke from igniting and rolling over them. At a certain point, however, the fire becomes too intense, and they have to back off and leave the building before it flashes.

Another practical test involved safely extricating people posing as crash victims from a smashed car and van using specialized cutters and spreaders. Both vehicles were donated by Glacier Towing.

SBS donated the materials for a wooden shed that the fire departments built at the AVTEC facility for use in a future training that will demonstrate how to break down walls, doors and windows. Five additional trainings are scheduled.

The local business community, and everyone else who helps the fire departments, are much appreciated, Mathis said, especially all the employers of the volunteer fire fighters, because without them, they could not do their jobs, "Employers are a huge part of their success, their support to us is immensely appreciated."


Reader Comments

Hrenee writes:

A correction to the article, Robert Mathis is the Deputy Fire Chief, an assistant chief is under the Depuity, which is under the Chief.


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