By Neil Corbett
Mission Fire Rescue and eight local high school students have set a new standard in work experience.
When Mission Board of Education asked Mission Fire/Rescue if it would like to be involved in offering a work experience program for high school students, chief Ian Fitzpatrick and assistant chief Larry Watkinson decided it would have to be a lot more than simple job shadowing.
They put together a curriculum that started with ropes and knots, graduated through the proper use of fire hoses and breathing apparatus, and ended with the kids attacking live fires. The students did 100 hours of training and on-shift work.
“We wanted to give these kids some tangible assets,” explained Watkinson. “They spent their entire spring break with us.”
They needed turnout gear to fit the students (“They range from five-foot-nothing to six-foot-four,” said Watkinson) so they requested assistance from the provincial Justice Institute, which is responsible for firefighter and other emergency services training in B.C.
Wayne Stevens, the director of fire and safety at the institute, said they were eager to help.
“Larry did a fantastic job. He came with a very clear and focussed vision, and that’s what made it so easy for us to jump on board,” said Stevens.
The work experience program culminated in a session at the Maple Ridge Fire Academy, a where professional firefighters train against live fires in controlled conditions. The students were in full gear, with breathing apparatus and water hoses, attacking simulated house fires and car fires.
Stevens said they did an admirable job.
“They were enthusiastic, and represented themselves, their schools and Mission Fire Rescue exceptionally well,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t give youth enough credit, but they were respectful and eager to learn.”
Watkinson said the students touched on many of the aspects and skills of firefighting that people training for careers try to perfect during the three-month pre-employment program offered by the Justice Institute.
The eight students who took the program are almost all interested in careers in the field, and have been given a head start.
“It (the program) gives the kids a very good understanding of what the job’s about,” said Watkinson.
The students have been invited to continue their training, and can take part during regular practice nights with Mission’s full-time firefighters.
One of the students, Catrina Buerge, will be sponsored by Mission Fire/Rescue to attend a week-long female firefighters training camp.
Last Thursday, the fire group of firefighter cadets from Mission were honoured in a graduation ceremony at Firehall One.
Watkinson wants the program to be even better for the next school year, but was pleased with the first effort.
“I think we did pretty good,” he said. “We exposed them to what they can expect, and what firefighting is all about.”
Stevens praised the “rigour and structure” of the Mission program, noting that students were training to recoqnized standards.
“We’re already working on our side, to see how we can build on this,” Stevens said.