Seventeen students from Kent and Tahoma high schools attended the rigorous, seven day Summer Fire School created by the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority in Kent last week. This is the second year of this program intended to introduce high school students to the fire service.
Their training included:
- Hearing from junior and senior firefighters about their careers
- Learning about the civilian jobs
- Hands on training on ladders, hoses, and search/rescue
- Tour of Valley Communications, the dispatch center (911)
- Meeting the paramedics
- Learning about the psychology of emergency calls from the Chaplin
- Attend an addressing class (a preview- new hires have to memorize the whole 60 square miles of roads in their district)
But the program was even more than the mechanics of fire fighting. Kyle Ohashi, Captainand Public Information Officer, explained that they really wanted to get the teens to understand that what they do now will immensely impact their lives when they go to find a job after school, no matter what they decide to do. They went over how they make hiring decisions. Like them, many companies do background checks because they want to hire the type of people who choose to do the right thing. They need to drive responsibly because in their business, employees drive around giant fire trucks. What they post on social media is also something to be careful of.
“You can impress your friends or potential employers. Who is going to give you money to live on for the next 30 years?” explained Ohashi.
For the seven days they had the teens, they tried to teach them some leadership skills and responsible habits.
On days the students were going to do physical activities, they warmed up with physical training (PT) by Ryan Montero. The day I was there, they did calisthenics and lots of running before they went in to put on their fire uniforms. They came out of the station in full dress- fire pants, coat, fire cadet hard hats, boots and gloves. They were split into two groups, each containing two “companies” (teams), one off to learn to handle fire ladders properly and the other to learn how to shoot the fire hose.
Impressively, they had already learned how to hook up to the fire hydrant, so the teens made quick work of that. They pulled the hose off of a fire truck, connected the truck to the fire hydrant and took turns blasting a hillside of bushes in teams of two.
The ladder group learned how to carry the ladders without it ending in an unfortunate Laurel and Hardy ladder sketch. They also learned to attach the ladder to the building, how to hold the ladder and climb it safely in their gear.
The group of students had many reasons for deciding to sign up for this experience. Riley’s mom works in the industry. She wants to have a job where she helps people, so she thought this might be a way of setting a career path.
Anikia is very involved in sports. A friend of hers is an instructor for the summer school and it sounded like a lot of fun, so she decided to do it. Her favorite part was learning how to do search and rescue in a building.
Mark’s dad was a firefighter in the Navy. He wants to follow in his footsteps and go into firefighting after he graduates. His favorite part was learning to shoot the fire hose.
The students also got information on the Fire Explorer Program which is run out of the Tukwila Fire Department. They host the Tukwila Fire Explorers Post 51. This program, started in 1986, is a career education program made up of area students ages 15-20. It is designed to “expose students to the career of fire fighting. In addition, the program is a resource for education and training for these students that will benefit them once they begin the fire service testing process. The explorer group meets weekly for scheduled drills and training at city’s headquarters fire station. Advisors and/or firefighters usually instruct these events. Additional events throughout the year include numerous interagency training activities with other fire, police, and medical explorer posts in the region.
The Fire Explorers have an office at Station 51, and are assigned a 1994 Ford Econoline passenger van (Support 51). Support 51 is automatically dispatched to all fire department emergencies 2 alarms or greater and other wide spread emergencies as the department deems necessary. The explorers come to the emergencies and provide firefighter rehabilitation in the form of food and drinks during the alarm. Explorers also serve as additional resources in a support role after the alarm with tasks such as clean up, scene protection, equipment clean up, etc.
After completion of minimum training standards, senior fire explorers are authorized to “Ride-Along” with the fire department crews to actual emergency responses to observe and serve in a support role. These explorers are also eligible for more advanced training such as sponsorship in the King County Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course, and admittance to the National Fire Explorer conference held at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg Maryland.” (Tukwila Fire Department)
The number one cause of death for firefighters is heart attacks, so the Fire Explorers running the rehab tent is very important. After two tanks of air, a fire fighter has to go to the rehab tent to get water, rest and have their vitals checked before they can go back into the fire.
Another big reason the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority started this program was because fire fighting is often seen as only a white, male tradition. Less than 20% of fire fighters are women and/or minorities. Ohashi said they want to make sure teens in high schools understand that the fire service is an available option to anyone who really wants to do it.
At the end of the program, the students got a certificate of completion, a CPR card and a BBQ with their families to celebrate. But even more, they got an inside look at a job they may have not considered before, an understanding of how being responsible now pays off later, and a foot in the door to a fulfilling career path if they decide to take it.