When Keith Urkoski got the news that he would be promoted to a Grand Island Fire Department captain, he was overwhelmed with emotion.
After working for GIFD for nearly 20 years, and testing for 15 years to be a captain, Urkoski finally achieved his goal. He and Fred Benzel were promoted to fire captains at a pinning ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Fire Station No. 1, 409 E. Fonner Park Road.
“I have been riding as a officer for a long time,” Urkoski said. “I have taken a lot of training courses and, for me, this is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice for my family.”
Benzel, who has worked for GIFD since 2006 and has been testing for seven years to be a captain, called his promotion Tuesday “a relief and exciting.”
“It is a huge honor to be able to serve a crew and take care of a crew,” he said. “That pride and ownership of taking that over is huge to me.”
Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said fire captain positions do not open up very often — about once every four or five years — and that the process to be named a captain is “quite the process.”
“In order to test for fire captain, you have to have a task book, which says that you are ready to test,” Schmidt said. “That task book requires two years on the job and in order to test for captain, you have to have five years of work, three of which must be with the Grand Island Fire Department.
“That task book will take the candidates through a series of processes where they must demonstrate competency in certain situations and certain types of emergency scenes. But once that task book is complete and we have those years of service requirements in, they are eligible to test for captain.”
Schmidt said GIFD tested nine fire personnel for captain in August; Benzel and Urkoski were in the top three. He said the two new captains are “a couple of great individuals” he is excited to see excel in their new positions.
“These two have been with us for a number of years, so they have a lot of history with the Fire Department and a lot of opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills,” Schmidt said. “They have done a great job over the years. It is really phenomenal to see how far they have come and where they are at today. They are ready to take on these new challenges.”
Schmidt said GIFD now has 12 captains, with each working one of the three shifts at one of the four fire stations.
Also Tuesday, GIFD hosted a wash down/push back ceremony to officially place a new fire engine in service. Schmidt said the new engine will replace a 20-year unit, allowing the department to completely remove a 24-year-old unit from its fleet.
He said the Fire Department expects the new fire engine to have a 20- to 25-year lifespan.
“This truck has a lot of features that we are very proud of,” Schmidt said. “It has a lot of features that our older trucks did not have. It really improves the braking system, the lighting system and there are backup cameras. The seat covers zip off to where they can be laundered because they get dirty when our people are coming to and from a fire. They can absorb that smoke from a fire scene. These are easily washable.”
He added the new truck is built to where the bunker gear — the gear that firefighters wear on a fire scene — is stored outside the cab, reducing firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens coming off their bunker gear.
“The 2018 sales tax really allowed us to make some purchases like this one today,” Schmidt said. “We opened bids last October, just after the budget was passed. These trucks are custom built and because they are custom built, there was about a year lee time that it took from the time we placed that order to the time they arrived. That process is very complicated. We do not want to end up with the wrong truck for us.”
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