Bright and early at 8 a.m., while many of us are still in bed or at least in our pajamas, five local high school students are dressed in uniform and diligently learning lifelong skills through a college-accredited program provided by Pacific County Fire District No. 1 personnel at the Seaview fire station.
Through a new program offered by Pacific County Fire District No.1, high school juniors and seniors are given the opportunity to become fire cadets for the duration of the school year. According to lead instructor and program director Mike Karvia, Ilwaco High School seniors Jessie Wilmoth and Dustin Byle, and juniors Kanoe Thomas, Jon Biggs and Ashley Huddleston, are the first group of cadets for District No. 1's program and will give a lot of insight to how the course is executed.
According to Ocean Beach School District Superintendent Rainer Houser, the cadet program became a common discussion last year when he met with Karvia, school counselor and firefighter Carolyn Kayate, and several other district employees.
"At the time, Lisa Nelson was principal and was interested. One issue that was important was that we didn't have enough vocational training opportunities and to me that was a big deal because here is a place where [students] can start in high school and continue training in post-secondary schooling. ... I thought this was a great opportunity to work together with the fire department and the school. Any way to get kids prepared for the real world is something we have to do. We're a small district and don't have a lot of vocational opportunities so this was a good one."
Funded by federal grants, the cadet program is similar to many other fire department programs across the country that provide high school kids with a possible career path advantage in a fairly competitive field.
With their orientation in September, the students learned safety information, fire behavior, terminology and the chain of command. Throughout the year, they will receive hands-on instruction from Karvia, lead instructor and firefighter/paramedic Jennifer Reynolds, firefighter/paramedic David Lamb and firefighter/EMT Greg Griffith. In the process of attaining their Washington State Conditional Teachers Certificate, Reynolds, Lamb and Griffith are also previous cadets.
According to the training booklet, first year cadets will receive firefighting fundamentals, first aid and CPR training, and learn about hazardous materials and wildland firefighting. Some of the more specific topics required for first year students include learning search and rescue techniques, fire prevention and education, incident command, ropes and knots, sprinklers and alarm systems, ventilation, salvage and overhaul, fire behavior and how to use a variety of firefighting tools.
Second year cadets will learn advanced firefighting techniques, leadership and command, teambuilding, interview skills, time management and other life skills necessary to succeed as a firefighter.
Other second-year curriculum includes rescue and extrication tools, construction materials, building collapses, hydrant flow, radio communications, incident reports and fire cause and origin.
Exams are administered periodically and each cadet will receive a grade based on their scores, attitude, participation and teamwork. All cadets are also issued structural turnout gear and given the opportunity to participate in ride-alongs with district employees.
From 8 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. Monday through Thursdays, the cadets attend lecture classes at the Seaview fire station. In a recent class period, each of them learned radio etiquette and how to provide scene descriptions to responders promptly and accurately. Numerous photo examples assist in deciphering construction types, predicting the rooms in a house by looking at the types of windows, identifying weak supports, observing wind direction and determining a home's heat source (such as looking for a propane tank or chimney).
Every Friday morning, Reynolds oversees free physical fitness training and conditioning from trained volunteers Pam Fox and Ocean Beach Chiropractic's Dr. Matt Reilly. According to Reilly, the teens will learn proper lifting techniques, proper body fat percentages, what they need to accomplish through training and how to avoid injuries.
Recently, Friday physical fitness training became much more interactive when the cadets were given the task of completing a conditioning obstacle course in their turn-out gear. Making this "confidence course" even more interesting was the addition of self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs), weighing approximately 30 pounds each. In full gear, each cadet made his or her way through a dark, inclined tunnel, followed the fire hose by feeling on their hands and knees and entered a wooden house-like structure entangled with the fire hose, rope and bungee cords.
"Keep going Ashley!" Karvia directs. "Follow that hose - that hose is your lifeline."
Often having to re-situate their helmets, tighten their chinstraps or reposition their SCBAs during the task, the teens concentrate on proper form, sequential steps and proper breathing techniques so as to not waste air or hyperventilate.
For even more of a challenge, some of them opted to cover their mask, which replicates smoky conditions where all one can see is light and dark. A couple cadets went even further, choosing to remove their SCBAs in the dark tunnel, pushing it to the end without dropping it to the ground and then putting it back on, buckle by buckle. Each of these proved to be difficult tasks but all the cadets successfully completed with teamwork and lots of encouragement.
Throughout the year, the cadets are scheduled to take field trips to other fire departments, cadet programs, training facilities and other organizations pertinent to their studies, such as a 911 call center. Throughout the month of October, the cadets took weekly trips to learn about construction at the Wyndham Resort site on the west end of Sid Snyder Drive in Long Beach. There Walsh Construction Superintendent Al Bettis took the cadets through the building process, from going over drafts and building footprints to touring through the early construction stages. Bettis and Karvia explained a variety of factors, including building safety concerns, fire and smoke dampers, building code requirements and height restrictions, fire suppression in power outages without generators, water pressure, fire main connections, mechanical fires caused by lack of maintenance, how much water weighs, instances of forceable entry, fire sprinklers, window strength, types of framing and how sheetrock burns.
Not only does the cadet program provide students with high school credit, they can also receive college credit toward a fire science degree at Clatsop Community College or credit toward a bachelor's degree in fire department administration from a four-year university.
"This program provides them with a career path," explains Pacific County Fire District No. 1 Secretary Cheri Jones. "And we're very lucky to have Clatsop Community College so close, which will make an easy transition from high school to college, where they can utilize the MERTS Center."
"The whole goal of the program is to prepare the cadets to enter the workforce with techniques and skills that will make them marketable in our occupation," explains Karvia. "Post-secondary education is crucial for this occupation, it's essential to keep up with modern technology."
Another essential duty in the program will be volunteer service and community participation - some of you may have spotted the cadets at this year's Columbia River Crossing on Oct. 14.
"We're trying to instill the importance of volunteerism," says Jones. "Hopefully, they will come away from this with a sense of dedication and service in their community, no matter where they are. Volunteerism is a very important part of this program."
Dustin Byle, whose parents are both firefighters, says he has always wanted to become a firefighter and that this program is just the way he can get there. Only several weeks into his first year as a cadet, Byle already plans to apply for a District No. 1 internship spot next year. He also appreciates the fact that students can receive community service hours for their participation in the program.
Kanoe Thomas describes the program as a great opportunity that peaked her interest and says she really enjoys riding in the fire trucks.
While Jessie Wilmoth had planned to go into the Navy after finishing school, she found the cadet program to be a better choice and a "great opportunity to go anywhere." She says she is learning a lot of life skills and self-discipline, and wouldn't describe her studies as difficult "because it's so much fun." If still in the area after graduation, Wilmoth hopes to also apply for an internship position.
"I want to eventually become a paramedic, it's been a goal of mine for a while," explains cadet Jon Biggs. "Mr. Karvia encouraged me to learn how to be a firefighter first because it would be a helpful background for becoming a paramedic."
Biggs said he is having so much fun in the class that he plans to take part in the program during his senior year as well. He says he has received a lot of encouragement from the community and feels he earns a lot of respect from others by being a cadet.
Ashley Huddleston says she has learned a lot of interesting things in the past few weeks - "A lot of stuff I never knew before."
Each of the cadets agreed the "gear is really cool" and that the program has helped them develop manners. All of them enjoy working as a team and especially look forward to live fire training at the MERTS Center.
District No. 1 Chief Jacob Brundage says, "The fire department is very excited to offer this program, it is definitely something we want to provide for the community. It is very desirable to have the high school participate in an accredited program through Clatsop Community College, where they can learn and carry their skills into a career. ... These cadets are going to get more base knowledge and will be introduced to more responsibilities, as well as learn communication skills, self discipline, team work, dedication and other lifelong learning skills - for no matter what career they choose."
"These real life skills include time management, conflict resolution and resume-building - as well as career opportunities in the medical profession," adds Karvia.
Brundage concludes, "This is a unique program in this area, and it will instill community service and leadership skills that will be ingrained in them for the future. If they choose, they can volunteer with the department once they're 18 years old and take EMT classes - they benefit by learning new skills and we benefit by having more first responders. It's a win-win situation all around."
"While we at District No. 1 respect the past, we are also all about the future. We're about being visionaries by providing growth and encouraging participation - what can we do for the community for tomorrow?"
To learn more about the Pacific County Fire District No. 1 cadet program or to schedule a program visit, call 665-4451 or visit (www.pcfd1.org).