At Fire-Rescue International in August, FIRE CHIEF named Mark Flurry Kemper of Sedgwick County (Kan.) Fleet Management as its In Service 2010 Emergency Vehicle Technician of the Year. He was nominated by Boyd Powers, Kemper's shop foreman and president of the Heartland Emergency Apparatus Technicians Association.
Kemper began working on ambulances in 2001 and quickly became involved with the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission. Three years ago, he founded the Heartland Emergency Apparatus Technicians Association.
Congratulations on being named FIRE CHIEF's 2010 Emergency Vehicle Technician of the Year.
It's a big award and I'm honored. It's like you work your life to try to help people — I was a preacher, I wanted to help kids, I wanted to be in the service world and serve the public in the ambulance world. Even with the EVT organization, I wanted to give back and that's when I decided to start Heartland EVT, so we did. I'm honored and totally honored.
I know there are other people out here who work day and night on fire trucks and ambulance, they work hard. I know firemen who are mechanics and paramedics who are mechanics and they give their life for it. To be called EVT of the year is just humbling. Boyd said, "You deserve this you really do."
How do you not go home and mentally run a check list on the brake job on the ambulance? When I torqued the bolts on the turntable, did I get them all? Did I miss any? You run them back in your mind, did I do it right? Every time it starts raining out or gets a little slick, you think do I have good tires, what about my contingency plans. Do you have backups on your backups?
I could grab about thirty people and walk hand-in hand to accept that award — they're all part of me — they're my buds. They work pretty hard too.
How did you get involved with specializing in ambulances?
I had never done anything in military or emergency services; I was a preacher and worked at a church camp. Churches and church camps are hard places to work, so I moved to Wichita. I needed a straight-forward paycheck, so started working on cars in 1987.
Some people say I've always had an interest in meeting a need and fixing things. At the church camp I worked in plumbing, electrical, air conditioning, all kinds of maintenance as I preached, automotive as well. In 2001, I got tired of working for car dealerships and wanted to feel like I was giving something back in my work. Timing was everything with the job in Sedgwick County Fleet Management.
All those skills came together in the ambulance program because an ambulance has plumbing, electrical, heating and air condition, flooring, interior cabinet work, upholstery, carpentry, welding. We try to buy whatever we can in the county that fits and is engineered properly.
How did you get involved with the EVT certification program?
Boyd told me I had to do the EVT certification program. In two years I was a certified ambulance mechanic master — I wanted to be certified and master of everything. I wanted ASE certification, and I went on to become a truck master and passed the drivability tests for L1 and L2 performance.
I mastered the truck, auto and EVT, and they are very important to me. If I saw the need, I'd work on the fire apparatus, but I want to stay focused on what I do. And whenever I see a need, I do more tests or certifications.
You and Powers created an ambulance remount program that has save Sedgwick County more than $1 million. How did that program come about?
Boyd and I always talked the wastefulness of trucks being switched at 100,000 miles because it was worn out — we'd replace the truck and the box. We let people know that we were willing to remount [the boxes] and we were certified.
Our first experience was with an 2006 truck that was wrecked and the chassis totaled. It had 30,000 miles, and we started the remounting. The remounts have worked well and part of the blessing is that the commissioners can get a better quality truck and save some money; they don't have to take the lowest bid then and they can look at quality.
When you have personnel, the talent, the certifications, then all you need is the funding. We figured out the plan that we'd do the remounts on overtime and the regular service would take the 40-hour work week. So, I spent 20 hours a week on remounts and 40 hours a week on service and maintenance repairs on the fleet.
How many remounts of ambulances have you completed in four years?
We have completed 18 ambulances, including the original one, which we did twice — we saved it as a truck and then remounted again. So we have done 18 and have one close to completion and another in the process.
There's been a lot of cooperation. The EMS people have supported us. They like that we're certified and take great pride in what we do. We also get to improve the quality when we remount. That's not to say the original manufacturer isn't good, but we pay attention to the remount and it's easier to diagnose a problem when you know where all the electrical circuits are on a truck, how much Freon is in the A/C and why you set it at that level. You have a total understanding of the vehicle.
Don't you have concerns about working on ambulances?
Do I have concerns? Yes! If you mean about health, if there's any question we glove up and most of the time we glove up anyway. Chemicals fill the automotive world — the powder off the brakes, the stuff in the oil — they have warned me. For example, I've taken my hepatitis A and B vaccinations.
I learned a lesson once. I thought I was pretty smart and I'd blow the cab out. I noticed after I started that I was getting a lot of dust in the air. I noticed my nose was really sore and something was wrong, so I stopped doing it. Sure enough, MRSA lives in the dust. It's not the wet MRSA lives in, it's in the dust.
The paramedics are in the hospitals, on the scene, walking in all kinds of filth and contamination and I thought I was real smart to blow it out. Now I go to the big vacuum at the county car wash and suck it out. I don't get that dust up in the air because I was exposed to that stuff. My nose isn't sore anymore. …
When I get in the back of an ambulance, I have a reverence for it because people have lived and died there. You don't take your hand and wipe it down the side of a cushion. You don't stick your hand down in a crack and you don't just go running your hands around. We have the needle drops and hazardous waste bins, so we respect that stuff constantly.