USA —Wide-eyed, enthusiastic and with a slight fear of the unknown, 15 local high school students assembled at a forest location, about to embark on their first hands-on firefighting exercise.
The fire exercise took place April 27 on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Silverthorn Marina on the Pit River arm of Shasta Lake, and was a collaborative effort between Bob Price, director of the Shasta Union High School District Fire Technology Careers Program, and Forest Battalion Chief Walter Bunt.
“We often need temporary firefighters,” Bunt said. “When Mr. Price approached me about putting together an exercise, I thought it was a great idea. During the exercise, the students will learn firefighting basics for wildfires.”
Bunt, who administers the fire training for the forest, tailored the exercise to simulate activities during an actual wildfire. The students learned how to identify and watch out for hazards, fire line construction, fire shelter deployment and how to effectively communicate during such an incident.
Price, whose career stretched over 30 years as firefighter and as an operations chief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, started the high school fire program in fall 2010.
“I think it’s important for students to learn skills that are necessary for them to enter the workforce,” he said. “The program provides them with the skills to become entry-level firefighters for the Forest Service. It is crucial that they have hands-on experience.”
There are 58 students in the two sections of the program. Fire 1 is for high school juniors and Fire 2 is for high school seniors.
With heavy backpacks and tools in hand, the students chiseled the ground. With each bead of sweat another foot of fire line was cleared.
The reasons that motivated students to join the rigorous activities of wildland firefighting varied.
“Somebody threw a cigarette into the field. Soon the field burst into flames and the fire raged toward my uncle’s house,” said Jeff Evans, who came to take part in the exercise. “I was only 12 and I was scared. I tried to help out with a garden hose. Then the firefighters came and I appreciated them a lot because without them my uncle would have lost his house.”
For student Hannah Jasperse, keeping her stepfather’s legacy is important.
“He was a firefighter for many years and was recently killed by a vehicle,” she said. “He took me to the fire station all the time and showed me the equipment and I like it a lot. He encouraged me to take firefighting classes and is my inspiration to move forward.”
Felicia Anthony had a different reason. She wasn’t planning to become a firefighter altogether, but changed her mind while in the academy.
“I wanted to be a firefighter when I was little, but lost interest in it,” Anthony said. “I was going to join the Navy and I took the fire classes to get me in shape. I ended liking it so much so I stayed. I plan to become a paramedic.”
When asked how the exercise went, Price said: “It was an incredible success. The students learned so much and got to experience the physical aspect of firefighting.”
There were some surprises. “A couple of students who wanted to pursue a firefighting career said it was too much work, while others who were not sure about pursuing firefighting careers said they loved it,” he said.