Muck, bad luck get truck stuck

Posted: Monday, May 08, 2000

When it comes to fire, water is our friend.

In the call received by Nikiski Fire Station 2 at 9:56 a.m. Thursday, water wasn't so friendly.

"While rounding a curve, the (fire truck's) tires broke through the soft (gravel) shoulder and we got stuck," said Warren Isham, battalion chief at Nikiski Fire Department Station Two.

No damage was done to either the truck or response personnel. Two tow trucks had the fire truck back in service within a few hours.

Meanwhile, four other emergency response vehicles from Nikiski and one from Kenai responded to the report of a home fire. Upon arriving at the scene, it was determined to be a false alarm.

Isham blamed spring breakup, rather than a lack of training, for the truck becoming stuck.

"It's amazing. The road can look real solid, but it changes from day to day."

Every person joining the Nikiski Fire Department is put through a training program on each of the vehicles. Training includes proper use of the equipment and skills needed to operate in emergency situations.

"It's a basic course adopted from other fire departments," said Isham. "And every year, there's a refresher course."

A commercial driver's license is not required to drive a Nikiski fire truck.

"I don't know if having a CDL would have prevented this morning's accident," said Isham. "It was just a soft (gravel) shoulder."

Bill Edelen, operations foreman for the Center for Employment Education in Anchorage, said drivers in the military, agriculture and emergency response are exempt from federal and state requirements for commercial licenses. His organization provides training for the Department of Motor Vehicles throughout Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula.

Len Malmquist, chief of Central Emergency Services, is familiar with CDL training.

"A CDL doesn't teach you anything about breakup conditions," said Malmquist. "It just teaches you how to drive. In Alaska, experience in breakup conditions is probably the key."

According to Malmquist, CES personnel are given an emergency vehicle operator course prepared by the National Traffic Safety Administration. In addition, anyone operating equipment that pumps water must take engineer's training.

Just as in Nikiski, there is an annual refresher training session.

Malmquist said Central Emergency Services requested and received from Laidlaw Transit Company a CDL instructional course.

"All the paid staff have received full CDL training, even though it isn't required," Malmquist said.

Malmquist reported an incident last spring when breakup conditions caused problems. Impassable roads required the use of a four-wheeler with a trailer to reach the incident.

"If you live in Alaska, you have to be creative," he said.

"I think a lot of people in the area don't remember what the road system looked like five to 10 years ago during breakup. It's a lot better now than it used to be, but this is still Alaska.

"We pay for the privilege to live here."

James Baisden, fire marshal for the Kenai Fire Department, said there are specific training requirements for drivers of each of his department's vehicles, as well as standard operating guidelines specified by the department.

"We also adhere to National Fire Protection Association Standard 1002, fire department vehicle driver operator professional qualification," Baisden said.

Beyond that, he said, experience is the best teacher. Each driver is required to have 20 hours supervised experience prior to being allowed to respond to an emergency.

Water recently bogged down the efforts of Ninilchik's emergency services. A fire truck, tanker and an Alaska State Trooper vehicle fell prey to muddy breakup conditions while attempting to respond to a fire.

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