Youths get hands-on chance to learn about firefighting at Wichita event

05/31/2014 8:29 PM

05/31/2014 8:29 PM

It’s not uncommon for kids to dream of being a firefighter once they are big enough to fill out the suit. However, it isn’t every day that kids from sixth to ninth grade get the chance to work directly with local firefighters.

About 100 students attended a free one-day camp at Wichita South High School on Saturday that was intended to give them a glimpse into what the life of a firefighter is like.

More than 80 firefighters from across the region – Wichita, Derby, Conway Springs, Hutchinson and the Sedgwick County and Reno County fire departments, among others – volunteered their time to help with the camp.

“It’s progressive learning,” said Nolan Carmine, a firefighter in Hutchinson. “These kids are out here learning basic skills and trying to have fun doing it.”

The Sedgwick County Fire Department had sponsored the camp for about three years until budget cuts prompted the program to be scrapped, organizers said. However, last year Nancy Peters and fellow volunteers from the Kansas Firefighters Museum decided to revive the program.

“We wanted to find a way to bring it back,” said Peters, chief organizer of the event. “Hopefully, every year we’re going to increase the amount of students that are allowed to come. We also want to keep it free.”

Throughout the day, the would-be firefighters navigated their way through a maze in the dark to rescue a simulated “baby” and learned how to help drowning victims. They participated in a rappelling exercise, when they were hoisted by pulleys about 20 feet above the floor. The camp was capped off with a soaking from the firehoses.

“You just get exposed to different stuff. I had a good time last year, and I’m having a good time this year,” Daniel Skaggs, a 16-year-old Augusta High School student, said moments before being drenched.

South High’s fire science program has been flourishing since its inception a few years ago, said Greg Peters, an alumnus of the program who is a firefighter with the Conway Springs department.

The school is equipped with an obstacle course complete with narrow hallways, stairs and a drop-through floor to simulate a real-life fire situation, said Greg Peters, who is Nancy Peters’ son.

“It helps you out to see if you really want to do this,” Greg Peters, 19, said. “If you’re claustrophobic, this where you learn.”

Saturday was also a bit of a homecoming for Carmine. The Hutchinson man first became interested in firefighting after attending a similar camp when he was 16. He went through the South High program when it was initiated and then attended Hutchinson Community College’s fire science program.

“To me, he’s a product of what we hope will happen with a lot of the youth here,” Nancy Peters said. “For kids that are considering this career, this is a great way for them to see hands-on what that career would look like. It really gets that mind going.”

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