Central Emergency Services firefighter John Anderson, foreground, takes the hot seat during a scenario exercise, part of the test candidates complete to get their names on a list for potential promotion to the rank of captain. Judging Anderson's performance are, from left, Homer Assistant Fire Chief Scott Elmer, retired CES Capt. Jim Dunn (behind Anderson) and Kenai Assistant Fire Chief Mike Tilly.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
Five firefighters from Central Emergency Services are vying for spots on a department promotions list to the rank of captain, by undergoing grueling mental drills at the hands of Kenai Peninsula fire-fighting pros.
"Major structure fire at the Blazy Mall reported; smoke showing; Engine 1, Ladder 1 responding," announces CES training director Ed French as the scenario exercise begins.
Under the probing eyes of examination proctors from Homer, Kenai, Seward and a retired CES captain, the candidates must then verbally react to the fake call, instantly saying how they would use all existing resources to put out the fire, assure no civilians are injured and protect the safety of responding firefighters and medics.
How will they use three available fire hydrants? Will they notice that the building has a fire-department sprinkler system? Where should arriving engines and the ladder truck be positioned? Should calls go out for mutual aid from the Kenai Fire Department or medics in other neighboring communities?
Mike McConahy, John Anderson, Brenda Johnson, Jack Anderson and Wes Perkins hope to get a high ranking on a promotions list being prepared for moving to the captain rank when an opening occurs.
Just when it seems the candidates are getting things organized, as French tells them more equipment and personnel are responding to the call, the trainer announces a motor-vehicle accident with injuries on the Sterling Highway in Sterling.
Acting as senior officer on duty, the candidates must continue battling the shopping center fire, while deciding what to do about the accident.
Minutes later, French tosses another stone into the water.
"Rescue respond. Rescue respond.
"Mile 117 Sterling Highway; 64-year-old male having chest pains, difficulty breathing, history of heart problems."
Again the candidates must decide in an instant who to send with what equipment to the medical emergency, while continuing the fight the blaze, which has now burned through the roof of the mall.
Mimicking the pressure a fire captain is under when fighting a major fire and other incidents happen at the same time, French continually chimes in with such information as Engine 7 arriving on the scene of the fire and the crew is awaiting instructions.
All the while, candidates are seated in a small classroom at the Kenai River Center, looking at an overhead projector display of the fire scene on a white board, looking at fake photos of the fire as it progresses through the mall and being handed little slips of paper indicating which CES crew members have arrived on scene.
The candidates are surrounded on three sides by proctors: Kenai Assistant Fire Chief Mike Tilly, retired CES Capt. Jim Dunn, Homer Assistant Fire Chief Scott Elmer and Seward Deputy Chief Jeff Austin.
After enduring about 15 minutes of rapid-fire instructions as the fire spreads, the candidates are then relieved to find they have either put the fire out or have been relieved by another captain.
Relief is short-lived, however, as French ushers them into the hallway, only to be met by a pesky news reporter who must have answers about the fire right now.
The scenario is one of several tasks candidates must complete to get on the captain's list. There's also a written exam, an in-basket exercise that includes preparing a public presentation and a disgruntled-employee counseling session all activities an actual captain might face.
After grading is completed, the list will be published.
All will make the list, but whose name will be at the top?
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