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KHS students taught firefighting

Sixteen juniors and seniors taking the Natural Resource Conservation class at Kenmare High School have also been trained as wildland firefighters this quarter.

12/30/09 (Wed)

Firefighters in training . . . Jason Melin, a senior firefighter at the Des Lacs
National Wildlife Refuge, discusses tactical plans for fighting fire in
a wildland/urban zone with Kenmare High School students enrolled
in Cameron Young's Natural Resource Conservation class.

By Caroline Downs
Sixteen juniors and seniors taking the Natural Resource Conservation class at Kenmare High School have also been trained as wildland firefighters this quarter.
In the first partnership of its kind in North Dakota and perhaps the entire country, firefighters with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have established a partnership with Kenmare High School and instructor Cameron Young to offer S-130, Firefighter Training, and S-190, Introduction to Wildland Fire Behavior, to 17- and 18-year-old students.
Young supported the idea of the class, suggested by USFWS Fire Management Officer Doug Downs, from the beginning. “I feel strongly that any time we can bring in professionals in the business and work with kids, they’re getting the best education they can,” said Young. “I also felt this was a pretty natural fit. We have a lot of kids who may end up living in small towns or on the farm, and this is material that’s applicable to anybody.”
Students covered basic elements of firefighting in the S-130 material, including learning terminology, the ten standard fire orders and the 18 watch-out situations. They also worked with maps, compasses, tool and firing devices necessary on the fire line. “It’s a lot of firefighter safety,” said Downs.
The S-190 course addressed fuels, topography and weather. “This is more of the science behind fire,” Downs explained. The course also included a unit about the wildland/urban interface, with information that applies to the farmsteads and rural homes found in this region.
Senior firefighter Jason Melin, a KHS graduate himself, noted the students handled a variety of tools used by wildland firefighters. “We brought in things like hand tools, drip torches and fire pistols,” he said.
Senior Sam Weigel said he enjoyed most of the coursework. “We have a better perspective of what firefighters go through and how much they need to know,” he said.
He recalled lessons in methods of fighting the fire and mopping up after a fire, and in using tools and fire shelters. “I was one of the few people who tried out the fire shelter,” he said. “And they let us try some MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, often used by firefighters in back country operations). They weren’t the best, but if that’s what you have, you eat it!”
Instructors for the course included Downs, Melin, Cal Moldenhauer and Mardell Dahlin of the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, Colleen Graue of the Lostwood NWR, and KHS graduate Darrick Ystaas of the Upper Souris NWR.
Downs believed the information from the two courses could serve several purposes for the students. “These kids may end up on the Kenmare volunteer fire department or working around the farm,” he said. “This is also a potential career opportunity for them, to let them know what we do [as firefighters]. Maybe we’ll end up with some seasonal employees at the refuge from this.”
Melin started at the Des Lacs refuge as a seasonal employee in 1998 when he was 19 years old. “I wish this sort of course was offered at that time,” he said. “I didn’t even know the fire program existed when I was in high school.”
He said he learned about the job from another KHS graduate, Corey Carstens, who was working seasonally for the refuge then. Melin soon took a seasonal position that became a career with the USFWS.
According to Downs, the two courses are offered at some college campuses, but the training most often takes place after an individual is hired by one of the federal land management agencies, including the USFWS, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs, all of which employ wildland firefighters.
“Usually, this all gets done in a week’s time, but we’ve stretched it out over nine weeks,” said Downs. “We’ve had to work around the school schedule.”
Students are tested over the course materials, with a passing grade necessary to be considered for “Red Card” certification. Students 18 years or older who are interested in obtaining their Red Cards as wildland firefighters would also be required to demonstrate certain skills such as fire shelter deployment, and pass a fitness test consisting of a three-mile hike carrying a 45-pound pack completed in 45 minutes or less.
Downs and Melin agreed they would work with any students who develop an interest in earning their Red Cards, and a field day will be offered for those individuals to cover activities, like fire line construction and use of water, that could not be done in the classroom.
Melin encouraged students in the course to consider working at the refuge. “They can talk to us and apply here,” he said. “Then they’ll know how the application goes.”
“And they’ll have a better chance coming in as a new person,” added Downs. “They’ve already had S-130 and S-190. That’s something we’d look at when hiring.”
He and Young agreed the course would be evaluated at the end of the quarter. “We’re all learning from this,” said Downs.
Young had not decided yet if the two classes would become a regular part of his curriculum. “It takes time to measure the success of something like this,” he said.
He established the partnership for the firefighting classes with assistance from high school principal Scott Faul and superintendent Duane Mueller, but USFWS personnel provided all the materials and organized the sessions.
“We wanted everyone to take home some practical knowledge,” said Young. “There are things they can learn that will be useful as a homeowner and a citizen. More specifically, if kids are interested, they might consider going further.”
“This brings that real life into the classroom,” Faul said. “This way, kids can relate to a job. We’re the first school in North Dakota to do this, and we’re one of the first in the nation.”
“The refuge sets a great example by being willing to come in and do something like this, to come in and work with kids,” said Young. “More of this would be beneficial to the education of our kids in general.”