Navit And Gcc Students Aim To Put Out Flames

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They can put a self-contained breathing apparatus on in 45 seconds or less.

They know what vehicles are needed on a wildland fire in a non-hydranated area.

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Panda Stackhouse, an unidentified fire student, Brandon French and Matt West gear up for fire science class at Hellsgate Fire Department.

They know how to toss hoses so nobody gets hurt.

They are the 14 students, five young women and nine young men, who are currently training at Gila Community College / Hellsgate Fire Department to fight blazes. Eight of them have yet to graduate high school.

After his graduation from Payson High School, Dylan Boyd will report to Hot Shots.

"Grueling physical entrance requirement make his acceptance a big deal," Hellsgate Battalion Chief Chuck Jacobs said.

"Ever since I was a little kid and saw big fires near my house and saw firefighters putting them out, I have always wanted to do that," Boyd said. He grew up in Tonto Basin where he witnessed the Picture Mountain and Edge fires.

As a member of a Hot Shot crew, Boyd will be the first one to go out and cut a line of defense in the event of a wildland fire this summer.

"My other seniors are still trying to figure out what a goal is. Dylan lives and breathes becoming a firefighter," PHS teacher Phyllis McGinnes said.

Five years from now, he sees his career taking him to a Phoenix fire department.

Soon after Kelsey Bregar tosses her graduation cap in the air, she reports to work at the Forest Service on an engine crew.

She will also be a reserve firefighter for the Pine Strawberry Fire Department this summer.

"I always knew I wanted to fight fires in summer because it's good money and I like camping," she said.

Post-summer, the teen, who does not see herself having a single career her whole life, will major in art and languages in college.

Bree Miller decided to take the course after a conversation with Shane Johnson of PSFD.

Miller is currently a volunteer with the Houston Mesa Fire Department and hopes to get on at Hellsgate.

Adults in the fire class are at GCC for the semester. The eight teens in the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) program Jacobs coordinates for the college, have made a huge time investment.

NAVIT students have spent four hours each Wednesday evening and eight hours on Saturdays during their junior and senior years of high school studying hazardous materials, map-reading, and fire survival skills.

Earning 14 hours of college credit means keeping up with a hectic schedule, but upon graduation, students are five or six core classes away from an associate's degree and qualify for a certificate of proficiency in fire science.

They also qualify for Arizona State Firefighter II and Federal Basic Wildland Firefighter certifications.

Matt West's life is an example of the tough time commitment.

In addition to his regular high school classes and a full load of college classes, he works part-time at Payson Regional Medical Center as a housekeeper.

"Firefighting is the best job in the world," West said.

Upon high school graduation, he plans to work in the ER as an emergency medical technician and Hellsgate has hired him as paid-on-call.

Since January, fire students are required to spend 12 hours a week behind a desk and in the fire station, keeping their reflexes and minds alert.

"A fire grows exponentially when?" GCC instructor and fire captain/paramedic with Hellsgate Rick Heron asks students as they practice dressing and removing their safety gear.

"Thirty seconds," one student yells out.

The state standard for putting on a self-contained breathing apparatus is 60 seconds.

In that minute, the firefighter must be sure the seal on her face mask is secure.

Straps can get caught on the table or twisted.

"You have to check the air regulator. If it gets stuck, it'll bleed your bottle out," Brandon French, an adult student at GCC said.

Students in the class at Hellsgate / GCC are required to gear-up in 45 seconds.

Oscar Teran is the fastest at 29 seconds.

"The class is awesome. I love the firefighters. We have become a family," Teran said.

Andrew Hensley is another of the adults in the fire class. He is making a career change from management to fire science.

"My father-in-law is a firefighter in Payson. I am married with two sons. I want to make my family proud," he said.

"Having the opportunity to work with the NAVIT kids has further inspired me. They already have the drive to pursue a career. I didn't have a clue at 17, 18, 19 years old," he added.

Jacobs and Hellsgate Chief Gary Hatch estimated that in the four years of the NAVIT program perhaps one-third of the students have stuck with fire science as a career.

If, for example, an adult walked off the street to volunteer at a community fire department, it might take that person as much as a decade before they would be at the level of training NAVIT students achieve, Jacobs said.

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