Top (l-r), Student Chris Decker appears wrapped up in his work, winding up hose after a firefighting exercise, U.S. Forest Service Captain Ryan Bridger helps student Shawna Cronkrite adjust hose pressure. Bottom, adult student Colton Buehler gets practice rolling out the hose in preparation for a fire fighting exercise.
By Steve Talbot, KCSOS
A different philosophy is applied to the old saying, "Where there is smoke, there is fire" at Frazier Mountain High School. Students dressed in U.S. Forest Service yellow and green fire fighting gear aim water hoses at areas not on fire. They are students in the Fire Science class offered by Kern County Regional Occupational Program (KCROP), a practical course for the students who attend FMHS, in an area susceptible to forest fires in the dry days of summer. The forest service needs new recruits to meet the demands of the season which runs May through October.
"It is a course aimed at training the students to be certified as entry level firefighters at the end of the program. If they are at least 18 years of age, they can apply for voluntary firefighting positions," said U.S. Forest Service Captain Ryan Bridger, advisor to the Fire Science class. "It would be very difficult to recruit for the summer firefighting season, were it not for the program. We would have to go to campuses and recruit, then try to quickly train new recruits during the busiest part of the season. This way, the Fire Science students are ready to come on aboard when the season starts."
The Fire Science program began in 1998. This year’s class started training on Jan. 12 and concluded April 12. Bridger said many students have found summer firefighting a good way to provide public service while earning income for college. Students can usually attend most of the school year and then take the summer off fighting fires to earn money for tuition.
The students pay keen attention to detail, as they roll out hoses, prime portable pumps, adjust spray for distance and coverage, form teams to carry the hoses into battle and quickly, but carefully, rewind the hoses by hand for the next battle.
Senior Shawna Cronkrite was one of a handful of females who took the course.
"I’m looking forward to being hired right after school," Cronkrite said. "I’m applying to stations right now, and I would not be able to do that if I didn’t have the experience. I want to be outdoors the rest of my life, staying healthy and helping people and this kind of work matches my needs.".
Working with veteran firefighters was something that junior Chris Decker really liked about the program.
"Fighting fires runs in the family," Decker said. "My father was a firefighter and so was my grandfather. The teachers pass on their first hand experience and that is really valuable. One teacher was actually in a ‘burnover,’ and he spent a whole day teaching us how to survive. This training is absolutely critical for life saving. The program doesn’t cost me anything, and I plan to take it again next year to be even more prepared."
Thirty-five students, representing about three percent of the school, enrolled this semester, one of the highest turnouts in the history of the program.
As the school year progressed, they got lots of hands on training with portable pumps, water delivery systems and hand tools to suppress fires. They were also taught the most important lesson in fighting fires—be cautious.
If you would like more information about the Fire Science class, call (661) 824-9313.
Steve Talbot of Bakersfield works with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools
This is part of the April 25, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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