Though fighting fires is serious business, firefighters from around the state had a chance to have fun with their duties and show off their skills Saturday as they wound up the annual Alaska State Fire Chiefs and Firefighters associations' training conference in Kenai.
A crowd of participants and onlookers gathered at the Kenai Municipal Airport Opera-tions Facility on a sunny Saturday afternoon for the firefighters' competition, which had participants scrambling up ladders, rushing to don breathing gear and hurrying to hook up hoses, among other things.
"It's a lot of fun," said Mark Kirko, fire chief in Cordova and president of the Alaska State Firefighters Association. "Those guys work hard all year round. They come down here and kind of cut loose."
Firefighters from departments across the state attended the conference, and several departments were represented at the competition. At least six teams competed, and several individuals from different departments participated as well.
The event began shortly after noon with a make-and-break relay of fire hoses, where teams competed for the best time at connecting and disconnecting fire hoses.
The next race had participants hustling to don fire gear and air tanks, followed by a race where teams carried and set up a ladder so one team member could climb up it and ring a bell. After that, participants raced to put out barrel fires with fire extinguishers.
'It's very, very serious for a couple teams, but what's great is for the other teams to come and have a good time.'
-- Dan Grimes,
Airport Fire Department
The final race of the day was a new one for the competition -- a truck pull. Teams of four firefighters harnessed themselves to Kenai's fire engine No. 2 and hauled it 50 feet to see which team had the best time.
A team of the Kenai Fire Department's finest -- or largest, at least -- took the first drag, demonstrating how it's done and proving that, should the truck ever have engine trouble, they would be able to get it back to the station.
The truck pull was the favorite event of Garnet Sarks of Kenai, who brought her sons Luke, 3, and Brock, 2.
"The fire truck pull -- that's the one I'm excited about," she said.
Luke was nonplussed by the men straining to haul the truck, but the more dramatic fire extinguisher race did grab his attention.
"I like the fire one," he said.
Brock, on the other hand, was most excited by an appearance of Sparky the Fire Dog, who clowned with competitors for about an hour at the start of the event.
Holly Babcock of Kenai, Sarks' neighbor, said she enjoyed seeing the speed of the competitors in the ladder race, but found the whole competition entertaining.
"It was pretty interesting," she said. "I used to be a dispatcher and send them out. It's kind of neat to see what they do."
Two teams that participate in the competition every year, the Red Dog Mine Fire Department and Alyeska Marine Terminal Fire and Rescue Department, train rigorously for the event and have an ongoing rivalry. Alyeska took the top overall team honors this year -- Red Dog finished second.
For others, it's just a chance to have a good time.
"The best part about it is the enthusiasm everybody shows up with," said Dan Grimes of the Fairbanks International Airport Fire Department, the competition judging organizer. "It's very, very serious for a couple teams, but what's great is for the other teams to come and have a good time."
The event's announcer and audience had a good time at the expense of the fire chiefs' team, whose rule is to never practice for the event.
"(The fire chiefs' team) is running second," the announcer said of one race's lineup. "They'll be last, but they're running second."
The event came off with only two minor hitches -- the wind whipping across the runway made it difficult to get the barrels lighted for the fire extinguisher race and some of the competitors in the ladder race were a little too enthusiastic ringing the bell, causing the weighty brass instrument to go careening off its mount, almost beaning some onlookers with the bell, instead of being saved by it.
In both cases, however, the crowd was patient with the delays, as the airport activity and clear view of the Chigmit Mountains gave them other sights to look at.
The conference itself was a success as well, said Capt. James Dye of the Kenai Fire Department, who was a conference coordinator. There were about 165 firefighters in the classes, 30 to 35 vendors came to hawk their wares and about 220 to 250 people were expected to go to Saturday night's banquet and awards ceremony, he said.
"It's good for our community, obviously," Dye said. "It brought in money and business."
Although it takes a year of preparation work, hosting the conference has its perks for local departments, as well.
"Traditionally if the conference is held somewhere else, the Kenai Fire Department can afford to send four of our 16 total people in the department," Dye said. "This year we registered all 16."
Training sessions were held throughout the week at fire stations around the central Kenai Peninsula and at the Alaska Regional Aircraft Fire Training Center on Marathon Road.
One of the most popular classes was the rapid intervention training, which teaches firefighters how to save themselves and others in emergency situations. According to Grimes, it is the third time RIT has been offered in Alaska, and the first time Outside instructors, who were from Indianapolis, came to teach it.
"In my humble opinion, that was the best training offered," said John Harris of the Kenai Fire Depart-ment.
Grimes said one of the classes he found most interesting was arson investigation, where a mock trial situation was set up with a judge and opposing attorneys.
Kirko said the Alaska State Firefighters Association also had a business meeting during the week, where it worked to established a benefits package for volunteers, support the Alaska State Fire Marshals Office in assisting with training throughout the sate, and to create an arsonist registry for the state. He said the association's main goal for the next year will be to do more fire awareness public education for citizens of the state.
"I think the conference went very well," Kirko said. "We had a number of excellent instructors come for all the training done."
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