PRISM gets a look

Posted: Thursday, November 03, 2005

Randy Ernst, deputy director of the Pacific Rim Institute of Safety and Management, spoke at Wednesday's Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting to explain PRISM and how the facility supports the community.

The facility provides vocational courses in the area's aircraft and industrial fire training, health and safety management and associated medical services.

Ernst explained that PRISM is a six-person management team owned by AAI Services Inc. in Hunt Valley, Md.

"It's a private company, and we've been hired to manage the Alaska Regional Aircraft Fire Training Center and also the investment that AAI has put into it, which is the structural industrial portion of the facility," he said.

Ernst said the facility, off Marathon Road in Kenai, was devised when David C. Burnett and Ernst came together and heard that approximately $13 million was available from the federal government for regional fire training facilities.

"We said, 'Uh, why is it that we couldn't build that?'" he said.

After that initial discussion, the two contacted the Federal Aviation Administration.

No other community in Alaska had come forth with the idea, so Ernst wrote a grant, while Burnett and his department designed and engineered the facility according to the FAA's specifications. The group then had a business plan developed, and it was taken across the state. Ernst said Anchorage officials thought it should be built there.

"I said, 'Well, you're going to have to hurry. We are one step ahead,'" he said.

The funds available for the project were a combination of federal, state and city money totaling $13 million. The city then bumped in another $1.7 million to finish the top portion of the facility for the Emergency Command Center for natural disasters.

Ernst said private industry stepped in with $2.3 million to build the structural industrial facility.

Ernst showed the chamber a Power Point presentation to tour the facility's campus, including the various administrative buildings, two classrooms and a lecture room. Currently, the top floor of the facility is home to the 2006 Arctic Winter Games headquarters.

The PRISM campus houses two airport crash trucks and an apparatus bay with a work area for maintenance and the filling of self-contained breathing apparatus that are used in live fire training.

Realistic training is conducted on the Specialized Aircraft Fire Trainer using two 737 jet aircraft simulators. One of the simulators houses 10 specialized fire props, while the other has a 125-foot diameter pit fire. The industrial and structural trainers provide three interior props as well as a smoke maze.

The fuel spill trainer is 125 feet in circumference and has 79 different fire zones that will heat up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit at full burn.

"It is a mock-up of a 737 with a broken wing," Ernst said, adding that the simulator burns liquid propane at the rate of 800 gallons per minute.

"It is a little spendy to run," he said.

The structural and industrial trainer is a building that has a kitchen fire on the first floor of the building with a splash over. On the second floor there is a generator fire and a flange-spill fire, an exercise where trainees must pass through a heavy fog to the source of the fuel to put the fire out. There also is a confined space area and smoke maze room.

"In the future, we are going to build a bedroom fire here with a splash over also," he said.

All props shut down automatically at 700 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Everything on our facility is operated by computers, the student does not put the fire out, the computer does," he said.

Training at PRISM helps many area residents obtain the training 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."

In the Firefighter I academy, participants also receive national emergency medical technician certification.

PRISM also offers various safety classes that deal with hazardous materials and health and safety.

Ernst said there have been 8,618 students trained at the facility since 1998. Of those, 121 are Firefighter I internationally certified students — 115 of those are male, and six are female. The remainder are oil field companies, medical services and Era flight attendants.

Of the 121 firefighters, three work in Kenai, eight in Nikiski and one is an Alaska State Trooper.

The facility averages 1,500 students annually and runs at a cost of $450,000 per year.

Ernst said he expects a 4 percent growth per year for the next 10 years.

In keeping with the topic of disasters, a special presentation was made during the luncheon to Tina Marie Herford, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula United Way, who was handed 38 pounds of rolled change and dollar bills from four 10-year-old students from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School. The donation will be used to fund aid for Hurricane Katrina victims.

"What an inspiration to all of us," Herford said. "I feel honored that they selected us as the recipients."

The money, totaling $640, was raised by Terry Clark's fifth-grade class, which placed 5-gallon water jugs throughout the Kenai-Soldotna area for a month. After raising the funds, the class then used its free time, consisting of one 15-minute break and a recess, to roll the coins.

"These kids are a good example of individuals caring about someone else," Herford said. "I think a lot of us could learn a lot from them."

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