Kenai seeks operator for PRISM fire training center

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2006

Six months ago, a Pacific Rim Institute of Safety and Management official told members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce how the fire training center on Marathon Road supports the community.

Now the PRISM center is looking for someone to run it.

AAI Services Inc., a subsidiary of United Industries, which has operated the training center since it opened eight years ago, has in-formed the city of Kenai it does not intend to renew its contract at the end of this year, according to Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.

In fact, the company told the city it would consider terminating its contract earlier if the city finds another entity interested in operating the center, Koch said. The operating company formerly was known as ESI.

The PRISM center, which provides vocational courses in aircraft and industrial fire training, health and safety management and maritime fire fighting, came into being when former Kenai Fire Chief David Burnett and former Kenai Municipal Airport Manager Randy Ernst learned that about $13 million was available through a Federal Aviation Administration grant for a regional fire training facility.

Ernst wrote a grant proposal and Burnett and his department designed the facility to the FAA’s specifications.

The center was built with a combination of federal, state and city money. Private industry also kicked in $2.3 million.

In addition to training firefighters in aircraft and structural fire fighting, the center offers training to oil platform workers, airline employees and emergency medical responders.

Among their clients, PRISM has trained people from the Kenai, Homer and Seward fire departments, the Department of Transportation, a number of area airports as well as from private industry including Unocal, Marathon, Tesoro, Agrium and Peak Oilfield Services, according to Burnett.

“Currently we have about 2,000 students a year,” Burnett said. “We started with 100.”

Koch said the center has “not made enough money to pay for itself,” and said the city has put in between $50,000 and $75,000 a year to maintain it.

Last week, the state fire marshal visited the facility with an eye toward operating it.

Koch described the visit as “kind of general” with “nothing definitive” being decided at that time.

He said the city is interested in determining whether the state would like to operate the training center, or if the city should go out for proposals from others.

State Fire Marshal Gary Powell did not return phone calls seeking comment.

“The folks in there now have an interest in operating it out from under the umbrella of (AAI Services),” Koch said. “I haven’t spoken with them directly, but I’ve been told they would be interested.”

The city manager also said AAI Services has offered to send its corporate controller to Kenai to go through and determine how to use the PRISM center better to make a profit.

He said the principal business of the company is defense contracting, not fire training.

On Tuesday, Burnett said, “I think there’s a good possibility the state might manage the facility.”

In addition to classrooms, the center has a Specialized Aircraft Fire Trainer that uses two 737 jet aircraft simulators, industrial and structural trainers that house a generator fire and a kitchen fire, and a fuel spill trainer that has 79 different fire zones that will reach 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit at full burn.

During his chamber of commerce presentation in November, Ernst said the PRISM center helps many area residents obtain the skills they need to go on to careers in fire fighting and safety.

“We are a post secondary education school certified through the state of Alaska,” Ernst said. “Our Firefighter I and Firefighter II programs are internationally certified.”

Koch said, “We’ve got until the end of this year to see how to fully utilize the facility.”

While he said it’s “not completely out of the realm of possibilities,” the city does not intend to close the PRISM center.



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