RV sacrificed for fire education
Technical training breeds rescue careers
Sam Green/Cortez Journal Heat blurs firefighters as they spray an RV during a training session fo
Getting out of the classroom to observe a large RV erupt into a cauldron of flames isn’t your everyday occurrence for most high school students.
But for Montezuma-Cortez high school students in Lori Mott’s fire science class, it is just one of many perks, including a jump start into a good-paying firefighting career right out of high school.
“It’s popular, and when these kids go back to class and tell their friends what they saw and did, it gets even more popular,” Mott said.
The Cortez Fire Protection District oversaw the live fire training exercise for the students. Firefighter Jay Balfour and Mott briefed the students and quizzed them on fire behavior as the RV was set afire and quickly became an inferno of orange flames and thick black smoke.
Absorbing the dramatic scene, 12 students are dressed in firefighting gear, translating classroom study into real-world experience.
“Put your shields down and pull your hoods up,” Balfour barks, as a blast of heat hits from 40 yards away. “What is the procedure? What is our primary concern?”
“Stabilize the vehicle, position uphill and upwind, and work with a partner looking for victims inside,” responds senior Amanda Haukeness, who is also a volunteer firefighter.
“Life safety of rescue personnel and victims,” adds another student.
Students are divided into two teams and deploy separate hoses. In ready position, firefighters let them observe the fire develop before hitting it with water.
“Watch how ventilation is feeding the interior fire. A risk-benefit analysis tells us entering the vehicle at this stage is not advisable,” Balfour says. “In one minute, it went from smoldering to totally involved.”
This live-fire scenario is an important component of the class.
“They learn the basics in class, but to actually see it really motivates the students,” says Mott, who is also a Cortez firefighter and EMT. She cuts off and joins her students, shouting out questions, testing them to think under pressure.
“What type of fire is it Class A, B or C?”
Responds sophomore Gage Krobe, “A — ordinary combustible, if it were running, then Class C until you unplug everything.”
Cortez Fire Chief Jeff Vandevoorde looks on, excited that some of these students will be working for him soon.
“The fire science and EMT courses really give us a good relationship with the school, and we are able to mentor kids into a career,” he said. “It is nice to draw local people into our department. We have several paid firefighters and volunteers who started out taking the fire science course and move on to successful careers.”
Haukeness will be one of them.
“I don’t think I would have known about this opportunity without the class. Now I know it is the direction I want to take, so I am looking at different fire academies to enroll in after graduation.”
Right out of high school, after completing training at a fire academy, a young adults could be making $30,000 per year plus benefits if they are hired in Cortez, or a $42,000 salary at the Farmington department plus benefits.
“I love it, “ said Staton Jeter, 20, who took Mott’s class and is now a full-time firefighter with the Cortez Department. “Where else can you make good money, work two days on, have four days off and serve the community fighting fires, racing out to rescue people, setting up technical rope rescues.”
M-CHS offers an EMT course for students, also taught by Mott. In 2012, she was Colorado’s Technical Career Education teacher of the year for her successful EMT and fire science training programs at M-CHS.
“For our students, it is an amazing chance to get right into a career making good money with benefits,” Mott said. “It pays more than many careers that require a four-year degree. They have the confidence and know-how to take the next step,”