Fire Science training gives students experience, possible career path
OGLESBY — More often than not, high school students are expected to not only go to college, but to also know what future career field they want to enter.
The LaSalle-Peru Area Career Center has been providing students from across the Illinois Valley with practical, real-world experiences in a variety of trades that lead some directly into new careers they might not have previously considered.
Courses in the program include automotive, computer-aided drafting, welding, cosmetology, graphic communications, health occupations, machine technology, culinary arts, residential wiring, construction, child care and early education, computer repair and fire science.
"Any more, kids are expected to figure out their career paths so early that this helps them experience some different options and possibly discover something they may not have realized they'd enjoy doing," Robbyn Partain, ACC instructor and Utica Fire Department firefighter said during a recent training exercise held at the Oglesby Fire Department.
"If nothing else, it helps give them respect for what we do," Partain said.
The fire science program attracts a variety of students. Some are actively pursuing a career as a firefighter and are already cadets on their local fire departments, some gained interest during shared medical training through the Certified Nursing Assistant class, and others were just curious and may or may not decide to pursue it as a career.
The training at the Oglesby training building was conducted with help from the Tonica Volunteer Fire Department. The program includes students from Putnam County, DePue, Hall, Ottawa, LaMoille, L-P, Mendota, Henry and Princeton. Students completing the program will earn certification as a medical responder.
Izzy Thompson, of Hennepin, a Putnam County High School student, is in her second year of ACC training and discovered the fire science side of the program while enrolled in the course to be a certified nursing assistant.
"I really like the medical field and I might pursue this as a career, or maybe just volunteer," she said before entering the training building.
More than a dozen students were split into four groups. Fully equipped, they were tasked with entering the smoke and obstacle filled building to experience how disorienting and potentially dangerous this can be during a real fire.
After that, the groups went to the building's second floor to crawl and work themselves through a cramped maze as quickly and safely as possible.
The maze includes a number of wires hanging in the way, as well as some tight, awkwardly shaped holes they had to squeeze through while wearing breathing apparatus. All safety protocols were followed, just as in a real fire.
"This will be fun. Now, don't get me wrong, it's going to be tough and you're going to have to conserve your air and work together as a team, but it will be fun," an instructor told the students before entering the smoke-filled building.
"This program teaches them even before they're out of school and let's them figure out if they'd be interested in following this career," Oglesby Fire Department Captain Dusty Shan said.
DePue High School senior Aracely Quintana is already a volunteer on her hometown fire department and enjoys the challenges posed by the ACC Fire Science program.
"I'm going into the Army, and this was the most structured, disciplined class I could take," she said.
Tonica and Oglesby firefighter Dan Francisco said programs such as the ACC can hopefully help small departments find experienced help.
"A lot of departments, especially in smaller, rural areas, are struggling to find help. This program lets students get their feet wet, and if they eventually become interested in joining their local fire departments, then they'll have some valuable and practical experience," Francisco said.
ACC instructor and Tonica Volunteer Fire Department Captain Rick Turri said the students also get to work with rescue tools, hoses and ladders, and they also learn a number of knots and rope lashing techniques to hoist equipment.
Ottawa Township High School's Katelynn Leix said she's enjoyed the variety of hands-on activities in the fire science program.
"There's been a lot of different challenges and there's a lot more to this than just fires. Going into the building was kind of scary because you can't see and everything is unfamiliar. It helped me understand what it could be like during an actual fire," she said.