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Fire captain speaks at Rotary


Captain Blake Perez of the Centralia Fire Department, a 19-year veteran of the Department, presented an overview of the Department’s operations at a Centralia Rotary Club meeting last month. He introduced Firefighter Carter Hulsy, a 2-year veteran with the Department and Rachel Neubauer who was a Ride-Along for the day to experience the duties of a firefighter. Rachel is interested in a firefighter career and is the first candidate on the Eligibility List for openings in the Department. The Eligibility List is based on the candidates’ written exam scores and physical tests.

During Captain Perez’s time with the Department, the volume of calls has sharply increased. Calls in 2005 were approximately 900 per year while this year’s total will be near 2,100. Firefighters work 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off duty. All members are EMS trained. There are two firehouses, one downtown and the other in Fairview Park. Minimum staffing for each day is 4 firefighters and they may have 5 on duty with at least 2 firefighters at each station. The Department serves all areas within the corporate city limits and responds to medical calls, fire calls, car wrecks, gas leaks, rescue incidents, hazardous material exposures and missing person reports. The downtown firehouse responds to calls east of the railroad tracks and the west firehouse responds to calls west of the railroad tracks. The downtown covers about 68 percent of the calls because of the population distribution. Both stations will respond to a car wreck or fire calls. Having a fire station on either side of the railroad tracks provides lower ISO ratings (Insurance Service Office), which lowers the cost of homeowner’s insurance rates due to lowered response times. The ISO also grades fire departments on training levels, equipment, water supply and statistics to determine the ratings of the departments.

The Fire Chief is in overall charge of the operations with a captain in charge of the daily operations. If a captain is off duty, a lieutenant will temporarily fill the position. There are 15 career firefighter employees and a part-time secretary. There are also four part-time employees as supplemental staff to assist with daily coverage and special community activities such as Balloon Fest, Boat Races, etc. so the Department is able to provide protection to the event and respond to an incident in Centralia. Since all firefighters are EMT’s, the Department responds to all medical emergencies, working under the direction of the Regional Medical Director in Mt. Vernon, following all HIPAA rules and assisting local ambulance companies. The Department participates in Mutual Aid Agreements with other area departments and statewide depending on the size of the incident.

It is very commonplace for the Department to perform walk-through checks of factories, business offices and apartment complexes by certified life safety inspectors. These walk-through checks are not inspections but rather to gain information to familiarize the firefighters with the layout of buildings, especially the newer employees. These are done so in the case of an emergency with a smoke-filled or fire engulfed building, the information will provide the Department with a layout of the building, if there is a sprinkler system, location of the exits, location of electrical panel or shutoff of solar panel electrical supply, and other important factors of the building.

Each firehouse has a large aerial platform truck to provide an overview of a fire. The City of Centralia does not have a drone but can call in a very excellent drone with thermal imaging capability from the Irvington Fire Department through the Mutual Aid Agreement to survey wooded areas for missing persons and large commercial property fires.

Marion County has two 911 Dispatch Centers, one in Salem and another in Centralia. The 911 call will be routed to one of the Centers, depending on which cell tower the call hits or landline that is used. Each Center has mapping software that determines the location, the various responding emergency agencies and ambulance service. The fire trucks carry battery-powered extraction equipment that is not limited by a gas motor or hydraulic pump, allowing the firefighters to use the equipment away from the truck or inside buildings. The fire trucks also carry suits and face gear to totally protect from pure smoke-outs or burning fires. These suits are equipped with thermal imaging cameras that can detect temperature differences of a body and surrounding temperatures, allowing the firefighter to locate a victim.

All firefighters have been trained in arson investigation and will immediately start the process of evidence preservation whether arson is suspected or not. If arson is suspected, the Department will call the Office of the State Fire Marshall which will send an investigator. The local Fire Department will assist the investigator and the Centralia Police Department in the groundwork for any suspected arson event.

Captain Perez fielded a number of questions from Rotarians fully explaining the details of operations within the Centralia Fire Department.

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