The annual Summer Fire School hosted by the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority (RFA), is in full swing as kids from around Kent, Enumclaw and the Tahoma School districts start their summer off by learning the basics of being a firefighter.
The school started on June 28 and will last until July 7, according to Kyle Ohashi, captain and public information officer for the RFA.
Ohashi said it is important for young kids to know what their options are as they begin to look at their futures.
According to a press release from the RFA, students will learn all about leadership, teamwork, equipment firefighters use, environments firefighters operate in, CPR, other careers available in the fire department and King County Medic One.
The school is all about introducing teens to the fire service and showing them what it takes to be successful in the working world, no matter what they do, Ohashi said.
“In a lot of cases, people don’t consider the fire service as a career choice, they see it as something that is foreign to them, alien to them, it’s not something that most people come into contact with,” he said. “One way to encourage people in general to get involved is to have something like a fire school that introduces high school kids to the fire service. Show them what we do, answer their questions and probably one of the most important things is show them what it takes in terms of what they needs to accomplish in order to secure a job. Whether it’s in the fire service or anywhere else.”
This is the third year the RFA has held the Summer Fire School and Ohashi said another aspect of importance is to encourage women and minorities to join the fire service.
According to Ohashi, the greater Kent area is very diverse, but only about 17-19 percent of the fire service are women and/or minorities.
“Clearly it’s not reflective of the communities that we serve. We are doing what we can to better reflect that and we provide a better service when we do better reflect our community, because we have so many different cultures and things that we need to be made aware of,” he said.
An example of why it is important to have a diverse fire service is because it is important for firefighters to understand different cultures. By understanding the different aspects of each culture, the fire service is less likely to offend the community they are serving, according to Ohashi.
“The best way to do that is to have people that understand the different cultures within our community and reflect those cultures in our community. This is an introduction to help us meet those needs and right now it’s the perfect time because we are doing a lot of hiring,” he continued.
On top of spreading the word about the fire service as a career choice, another aspect of the Fire School is to allow kids to understand how the real world works.
Ohashi said sometimes when people apply for jobs at the RFA, they don’t get hired because when they do the background checks and the driving record checks, the RFA may find reckless driving encounters and that could impair their ability to get a job.
“Racing your friends or driving 200 mph on a motorcycle with your helmet cam was really a lot of fun, but then when you post that onto your Facebook page, your friends may be entertained, but part of the job of a firefighter is to drive a 40,000 pound fire engine. You are showing us that you have made some bad decisions when it comes to driving and that’s going to affect your ability to get a job and it’s not just us. You want to be a mailman, you want to drive a truck for UPS, those jobs require you to be able to show you are responsible and that you have a good driving record,” he said.
Gage Marpoe, a 17-year-old from Tahoma High School, said this has been a great learning experience for him, as well as a great way for him to come out of his comfort zone, especially when it comes to heights.
“I wanted to look at opportunity for my future and better myself as a person,” Marpoe said. “Overcoming fears, like heights. I have a big fear of heights so going up the ladder is pretty tough, but I got over it.”
Although the goal is to get these kids ready for a career, Ohashi said that the RFA is not in the habit of hiring 18 year olds. He said this is because the job requires a lot of maturity and a lot of job experience. They are finding that the average 18-20 year old lack the skill sets that are necessary to be successful at the job, he added.
“We would much rather a person go to college, go to a tech school, do other jobs and become a better rounded person in terms of job experience and then come to us as a more complete package,” he said.
Jazmyn Kelly, a senior at Kentwood High School, said she could see herself doing this as a future career.
“I really want to be a firefighter-paramedic when I get older so I figured this was a good step in that direction,” she said.
In terms of success, Ohashi said the program has led kids to join the Fire Explorer Program. He said this program helps them understand if working in the fire service is right for them.
“These kids that come through the explorer program are being trained and educated in what the fire service entails so that they can make a good decision on whether it’s the right job for them and it gives us a chance to evaluate them as individuals and watch them mature and see how well they take to the training and the leadership that we provide,” Ohashi said.