The classmates took turns in pairs — a leader with a fire extinguisher at the ready and a buddy with a hand on the leader’s shoulder ready to help.
They tested the extinguisher and then called, “Going in,” which each buddy echoed. Awkwardly they shuffled, which allows for better balance, toward a small fuel fire burning in a halved barrel.
When they reached the optimum distance from the fire, the leaders aimed the hose at the base of the flame, squeezed the handle of the extinguisher and swept the hose from side to side.
After knocking down the fire, teams called, “Going out,” and backed away from the remaining white cloud.
The participants, some of whom had never used a fire extinguisher, were students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Community Emergency Response Team course.
On Wednesday, the class learned about fire safety and utility control with instructor Michael “Huck” Huckabay, who has 25 years of fire service experience. After learning about CERT members’ roles in when it comes to fires and different utility setups, the students put their new knowledge to practice at Central Emergency Services Station 2 on Mackey Lake Road.
While the CERT course covers a variety of topics from disaster preparedness to medical to light search and rescue, a few of the students chose to take the course because of the Funny River Horse Trail wildfire.
“With the recent fire, I want to be more prepared and help keep the community safe,” said 15-year-old Jackson Blackwell of Soldotna.
Wednesday was only the second class of the summer course in Soldotna, but Blackwell said the classes have been really interesting so far.
Delayna Baczkowski of Soldotna was out of town during the peak of the Funny River fire, but if another event like that occurs, she doesn’t want to feel helpless.
After Wednesday’s class, Baczkowski said she is more comfortable around fire and now knows how to put a small flame out.
Huckabay said about 20-25 CERT members assisted the borough with evacuation and staging efforts during the fire.
Dan Nelson, Office of Emergency Management program coordinator, said after a large event, like the fire, interest in the program typically increases. He estimates to have about 18 students by the end of the course.
He also said this is the first time OEM has offered the courses during the summer in Soldotna and believes that has lead to a higher number of high school-age participants.
Since its implementation in the borough in 2006, more than 500 people have been trained, Nelson said.
“It’s a tremendous asset that these people are willing to step up,” Nelson said. “They’re all volunteers. They don’t get anything more than maybe a meal once in a while and they’re doing these things for hours on end. It’s tremendous and we really couldn’t pull off in this community with the limited resources we have, some of these things without them.”
The borough offers courses throughout the Kenai Peninsula based on funding and interest in the program.
The CERT curriculum comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but is revised to be locally relevant. Huckabay said because it is a federal course, certification should transfer elsewhere in the nation if students move.
To get certified and join the borough’s CERT, participants must take all eight classes and the complete the drill or make up the classes online or during another session. Nelson said those interested in taking one or two particular classes are invited to attend. Current CERT members are also welcome to participate.
All classes are free and will be held from 6-9 p.m. at the Emergency Response Center, 253 Wilson Lane, Soldotna.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.