Alaska Fire Conference special training takes a destructive turn

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 5:38 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2022 at 7:18 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The saying goes, where there is smoke there is fire. This may be true in most cases - and what happened on Day 2 of the Alaska Fire Conference caught firefighters off-guard as the unexpected unfolded at a hands-on training session.

A fire training exercise took place on Tuesday at an abandoned structure next to the Sacred Heart Cathedral where fire fighters practiced a technique of firefighting referred to as “aggressive interior firefighting.”

This type of fire suppression focuses on a specific situation that doesn’t often occur. In order for the technique to work, a structure needs to be standing and in one piece, and also have a fire in it that hasn’t fully developed. This allows the responders to go into the structure and perform various tasks such as search and rescue while using hoses inside the building to combat the flames and put the fire out.

The surprise came Tuesday night at 11:00 p.m. when first responders received a call about a commercial fire at the corner of Airport Way and Peger Road, the same location as the Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Tod Chambers, the Assistant Chief for the North Pole Fire Department explained, “it is likely that after the training was completed a spot in the building continued to smolder and resulted in the fully developed fire that consumed the structure.”

Chambers added, “While the training delivered on Tuesday was valuable and conducted safely and effectively, this was not the outcome any of us wanted to see.” He also said while it is a difficult situation to investigate, “all the circumstances point to a failure.”

Chambers wants the public to know that “we apologize. This wasn’t our intent,” adding, “The staff and instructors for the Alaska Fire Conference regret this unfortunate series of events and the burden it placed on the community, the fire departments who responded, law enforcement, and GVEA.”

The Alaska Fire Conference is still evaluating the site, and is optimistic that they will still be able to utilize the remains of the structure for continued training on Thursday.

The four-day Alaska Fire Conference concludes on Friday, September 30.