Secret Life: UAF firefighters

Ian Larsen/ Sun Star Reporter

Feb. 11, 2014

 

UFD firefighters who responded to the Geraghty fire call, from left to right: Jordan Sanchez, Matthew Lazarus, Zack Manchester, Captain Forrest Kuiper and Battalion Chief Greg Coon. Ian Larsen/ Sun Star

UFD firefighters who responded to the Geraghty fire call, from left to right: Jordan Sanchez, Matthew Lazarus, Zack Manchester, Captain Forrest Kuiper and Battalion Chief Greg Coon. Ian Larsen/ Sun Star

The Geraghty Avenue fire left 38 residents homeless, two dead and one critically wounded. Six fire departments worked together to tackle the fire. The University Fire Department was first on the scene and in the building, followed by the Fairbanks Fire Department, according to UFD Battalion Chief Greg Coon.

“This was probably one of the most significant fires any of us have been on, not necessarily due to the fires, but the rescue that needed to happen along with the amount of fire that was there,” said UAF Fire Department Captain Forrest Kuiper.

Fire Chief Greg Coon was assigned to the back of the building during the fire. While in the back, he spotted a family of five trapped on the second floor. After City firefighters threw up a ladder, Coon pulled the three children from the building and assisted the parents out of the complex.

“I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time,” Coon said.

Three of the five University firefighters at the fire were students at UAF.

“We try to modify or mitigate activities based on experience level,” Coon said. “In the case of the Geraghty fire, there was no differentiation whether you were a volunteer, a paid firefighter or a student. There were lives at risk and everyone jumped in 100 percent.”

Zack Manchester, a sophomore studying Para-medicine, was the driver of the University fire truck during the operation. It was also his first building fire he has taken part in as a driver.

“There’s no other rush like a crazy call I take part in with my [firefighter] family,” Manchester said. “This is the only job I can see myself doing, on campus anyways.”

Matthew Lazarus, a sophomore studying Para-medicine had only been working in the department for a month when the fire happened.

“At the fire the training just kicks in,” Lazarus said. “Kuiper gave us excellent directions, and we did what we had to do.”

Despite having such little real fire experience, the students did their job attacking the fire with the same level of professionalism as a career firefighter.

“The amount of experience may not be there with our student fire fighters, but the amount of training they get, their energy level and motivation is some of the most involved I have seen,” Kuiper said.

At the University Fire Department, the only non-student jobs are the Chiefs and the Captain. The truck and ambulance drivers, EMTs and firefighters are all students.

All of the students who work at the department are required to maintain a 2.0 GPA, take a full course load and work a 56 hour work week in shifts one to four days at a time. On top of this, students are required to get their EMT 1, 2 and 3 certification, take part in vigorous fire training and are tested on knowledge of tools, apparatus and equipment, Coon said.

“Not only are they studying for all their classes at the university, they are also studying fire rules and regulations, safety, tools and equipment,” Coon said. “It’s a hard job”

Jordan Sanchez, a UAF student firefighter, shows how little visibilty the breathing apparatus gives to firefighters. Ian Larsen/ Sun Star

Jordan Sanchez, a UAF student firefighter, shows how little visibilty the breathing apparatus gives to firefighters. Ian Larsen/ Sun Star

Jordan Sanchez, one of the student firefighters who was in the building during the collapse, is a Junior studying Emergency Management at UAF and has been with the UFD for two years.

“We have this funny mnemonic where you have work, sleep, social life and school, you can only pick two,” Sanchez said.

It takes a lot of work balancing work and school. “If I get a call in class, depending on the call, I may have to leave,” Sanchez said.

When the students are not on call, they catch up on sleep and homework. Time management is one of the most difficult parts of the job, the group said unanimously.

“Sometimes the days are brutal,” Manchester said, “Just sitting in class trying to stay awake, it’s hard to be disciplined, so you just do what you can.”

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2 Responses

  1. Linda Coon says:

    So very proud to be the Mom of two firefighters. Proud of ALL of you men and women firefighters.

  2. Jennie Schrage says:

    With a son and a grandson in the Department we could not be more proud

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