The face of technical education at South High School on Thursday was covered in firefighting gear and really sweaty.
“It’s a lot harder than it looks,” said Zach Culver, a senior in the school’s fire science program, as he stripped off a helmet, mask, air tank and nearly 80 pounds of gear.
“We did pretty good, but a couple times the hose kept kinking up and kind of slowed us down,” he said. “I didn’t expect the hose to get as kinked as it did.”
Culver and his classmates didn’t fight any actual flames Thursday, but they ran drills in a new portion of their classroom designed to simulate some of the structures and challenges they could face on the job.
Carpentry students at South recently converted a former photography darkroom into a multi-room “prop” for the fire science classes. It includes walls, window cut-outs, a staircase and even a collapsible floor. The structure mimics a two-story house – or a structure with a basement – and gives the students a more realistic setting to practice running hoses, climbing ladders and dealing with real-life firefighting scenarios.
“Today we’ll be advancing a charged hose line through a structure,” said fire science teacher Kyle Haught. (His name is pronounced “hot,” and yes, he gets the joke.)
“We’ll see how they do. It’s a lot of coordination, a lot of communication. They’ll be applying skills they’ve learned throughout the year,” Haught said. “And it’s a lot of teamwork, because you’ve got four to six people involved in doing a single task.”
It took teamwork to build the new fire science training structure and teamwork to create the program, which started two years ago as a partnership between the Wichita district, the Sedgwick County Fire Department and Hutchinson Community College.
Students who complete the fire science classes earn up to 51/2 hours of credit toward an associate’s degree in fire science or emergency medical science at the community college, and some are ready to complete fire or EMT testing after they graduate.
The two-story training room – the brainchild of Haught and carpentry teacher Ron Fontenot – cost about $1,800 in supplies and took Fontenot’s classes a few months to build.
“It’s awesome,” said Will Schultz, 17, a senior who plans to pursue firefighting as a career after graduation.
“It helps get us more comfortable with real situations.”
On Thursday, students paired up in teams to practice putting on gear, climbing the ladder and running the hose, which was filled with sand to mimic the weight of water.
Most teams hit a few kinks along the way. Clint Reed, a Sedgwick County fire investigator and consultant for the high school classes, debriefed the students and offered tips afterward.
“Your pinch points, or friction points, are right there, right there – everywhere there’s a corner,” Reed said, sketching a floor plan of the structure on the classroom whiteboard.
“It’s all about communicating with each other, knowing where your friction points are, and moving enough hose to where you can move. Just flake that hose here and here,” he said, pointing to the sketch. “Otherwise, this person’s just running back and forth, back and forth, getting tired.”
Culver, the senior who partnered with classmate David Lowry for one of the day’s fastest and smoothest drills, said he enrolled in the program for fun. Now he thinks he might pursue fire fighting or some type of emergency management field as a career.
“Two years ago they did a little demonstration, and I thought it was kind of interesting,” he said. “After my first year, it was like, ‘I kinda like this, I think I’ll keep doing it.’ ”