Junior firefighters

  • By Katie Murdoch Enterprise editor
  • Tuesday, February 9, 2010 7:31pm

Ben Pruett, 17, smoothly steered the fire engine around the tower at Fire District 1’s training center before dropping off one of his classmates at a hydrant.

His peer nimbly screwed the hose line to the hydrant before signaling to his peers to turn on the water. Two more students on the hose line knelt before the training tower, poised and waiting for command before bursting through the doors.

Once that was done, they did the evolution all over again until class was dismissed.

Thanks to a partnership between Fire District 1 and the Edmonds School District, the 16- to 18-year-old students enrolled in the Explorer program have an inside look to see if this is the career path they want to take — an advantage some people don’t have until well after high school.

The Fire Service Technology Program, or Explorer program, attracts students curious about what becoming a firefighter or emergency medical technician (EMT) might be like. But it’s not for the faint of heart.

The program’s physical demands can catch some teens off guard. This year’s class started in September with 46 students and is now down to 25.

“You gotta work,” said Jim McGaughey, instructor and retired FD1 deputy chief of training.

Registration for the Fire Service Technology Program opened this week.

The two-year program is available to high school juniors and seniors in the Edmonds School District. Students can earn 10.5 college credits per year if they score at least 80 percent and complete the entire school year. This year’s class meets from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday at the Fire District 1 administrative headquarters and training center, 12425 Meridian Ave., Everett.

About 40 percent of the course is spent in the classroom and 60 percent in hands-on lessons — crawling through the dark inside the practice tower for search and rescue, connecting hoses to fire hydrants in less than two minutes and spraying fires in the tower, to name a few.

At the end of the first year, students are taught how to drive fire engines and attend a live fire class at the Washington State Fire Training Academy near North Bend.

McGaughey said he is proud of his former Explorers who went on to become firefighters.

“They are trophies in my imaginary trophy case,” he said.

One of McGaughey’s former students, Tyler Wilkins-Haigh, volunteers to help teach the Explorers.

Wilkins-Haigh said he enrolled in the program seven years ago with his friends. Since then, he volunteered and was later hired with Whatcom County Fire District 4 and now works at a fire station in South King County.

“I enjoy teaching people and watching them figure it out,” he said.

Wilkins-Haigh said the Explorers program is what got him hooked onto firefighting.

“This clicked with me,” he said. “When you find something you like, stick with it.”

After completing the Explorers program, students can enroll in the Fire Service program at Everett Community College. Both the Explorer and EvCC programs are taught at the same complex, using the same textbooks.

McGaughey said the program offers a “straight path” for its students.

“It’s made for them to succeed,” he said.

Andy Manney, 18, said the program is the most fun class he’s ever taken, mainly because it offers actual firefighting experience.

Manney said fighting a live fire at the Academy near North Bend was one of the highlights of his first year. “You’re up at North Bend actually working with actual firefighters and fight a live fire,” he said.

Chris Hall, 17, said it’s easy to bond with and trust his classmates because they all have similar goals.

“It’s nice to know everyone wants it so no one is going to slack,” Hall said.

The group of seniors reluctantly admitted heights and crawling through confined spaces are the parts of training that make them squirm.

“We climbed a 100-foot ladder,” Hall said. “You get up there and can see Monroe.”

“It’s every kid’s dream,” Hall said of the class, “100 percent times funner.”

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