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Education/Training

Va. High School Partners with Fire Department to Recruit Students

The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

June 05—This year, Hopewell High School and Hopewell Fire and Rescue kindled a brand new partnership that sparked hands-on learning and real training opportunities for students to become firefighters.

Training Captain Danny Jarrell led a group of students through the school's first firefighting class, which involves the first half of the full firefighting curriculum and the handling of hazardous materials as well.

"If we could get folks and train them ourselves in school, once they graduate, they would be ready to go," Jarrell said. "And once they turn 18, they can be a paid firefighter."

Twelve students signed up at the beginning of the year, but by the end there were only five: juniors Brenda Brumbley, Jeffrey Hazlitt, Patrick DeSpencer, Trey Jones and Jordan Saunders.

"I've practically been raised into it my entire life—my mom, my dad and my step-dad are all firefighters," Hazlitt said.

Saunders' grandfather also was a firefighter who worked for Hopewell's fire department, and her father is an EMT. Plus, she was interested in a unique learning experience.

"It's a different environment," Saunders said. "Instead of sitting in a classroom, reading a book a book all the time, you get out and do things."

"The physical part, being active and the hand-on part," were DeSpencer's main reasons for signing up, he said, and Jones said he just thought it would be fun.

"I like fire," Jones said. "I like the breaking stuff. I like the guys at the fire station. And I love my classmates."

"I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something more important with my life than take orders or do something like that," Brumbley said. "I just wanted to inspire people in anything that I really did. That, and it's dangerous. I like a challenge."

The students agreed that the class is a lot of work, and, perhaps surprisingly, there's a significant amount of book work—reading and learning exercises to solidify knowledge about everything from tactical ventilation to fire behavior to conducting forcible entry.

"The book is the key to this class," Saunders said.

"If you read and do what you're supposed to, it's easy, but if not, you're just going to be struggling," Brumbley said.

There is also plenty of hands-on training, including some weekend trainings, and students are encouraged to go on ridealongs with the fire department too.

Brumbley was on a ridealong in April when she had the opportunity to help put out a real car fire.

"You had to get behind the wheels, you had to spray everything that was previously on fire or even smoking," Brumbley said. "I fell backwards once because I let go of the hose. Good think I knew how to shut off the handle, because it would have been flying."

She thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

"It was exhilarating," she said. "The adrenaline was great."

The firefighter test at the end of the year involves exercises like laying hose, climbing a 75-foot ladder, and performing a search and rescue in a live burn situation.

DeSpencer and Saunders both said that the live burn experience was the best part of the class.

"I came around the corner and, for the first time, seeing the smoke and the fire and everything, feeling the heat," was really exciting, DeSpencer said.

Next year, the program will evolve to include both halves of the firefighting curriculum, and the current students that are interested in continuing with the program will help teach the first half.

The year after that, Jarrell said, the program hopes to be able to incorporate EMT training into the class as well.

This class setup is "such a benefit for them (the students)," Jarrell said, "because instead of having to take firefighting or EMT at night, like in the volunteer setting, they can come take it at school, and it's part of school so it's not taking up any extra time."

And Jarrell said he has really enjoyed being a part of training the next generation of firefighters.

"I like seeing them learn," he said, "I like seeing them going from not knowing anything and being scared, to being able to do it."

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