USA — A new program at Catalina Mountain School is preparing students to become wildland fire-fighters. It’s part of the first ever Fire Science Academy, launched at the juvenile detention facility, in partnership with the Northwest Fire District. The program offers a chance for incarcerated youth to learn life-changing skills.
Rocco, a 17-year old student at the facility, builds a fire line with fellow students Thursday morning. It’s just practice now, but soon, he hopes to do this for real, as a wildland firefighter.
“Because I know by doing this, I’m helping out my community,” Rocco said. “And also, I like working.”
Training in all kinds of wildland skills, including deploying an emergency fire shelter, Rocco and other students are learning the basics from local hot shot crews.
“Things like the incident command system,” explained Tony Johnson, an Ironwood Hot Shots firefighter. “How to use tools, how to sharpen tools, what to look for, how to work as a team.”
The students will earn a full academic credit with these lessons, and a certificate of training for wildland firefighting. It’s all to prepare them for life outside the fence.
And that means, beyond practical skills, they’re also building life skills: discipline and focus, to prevent behavior that led them to a juvenile detention facility in the first place.
“What it really does is teach them teamwork in a positive way,” said Lance Johnson, assistant superintendent of Catalina Mountain School. “They’re used to working as a team sometimes negatively. What this does is show them they can have that same camraderie, spirit of hard work, and diligence in doing something positive for the community.”
“It’s about teamwork,” Rocco said. “You rely on the other people to be able to do what they have to do, and you do what you have to do too.”
Rocco says it’s the teamwork and a sense of giving back are what drive him to pursue this work.
“It’s very, very important to me,” he said. “Because I know I’ve hurt my mom really bad in the past, and a lot of other people too.”
And when he leaves here in a few months, Rocco hopes the new skills he’s learning will help him make up a lot of ground.
“It’s just a way to pay back my community,” he said.