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Program leads Spokane youth through firefighting challenges

Ricky Giles, center, a Riverside High School student, quickly dons a firefighter’s protective suit in a timed competition  Feb. 19 at Spokane Community College. (Jesse Tinsley)
Ricky Giles, center, a Riverside High School student, quickly dons a firefighter’s protective suit in a timed competition Feb. 19 at Spokane Community College. (Jesse Tinsley)

Chris Hansen, 16, has always wanted to be a firefighter.

The junior at Central Valley High School said he wants to help people and have a sense of pride about his job when he leaves school. He knows there are many aspects to being a firefighter other than putting out fires, such as lifesaving techniques. He likes the combination of everything.

“Just becoming a firefighter is a success in its own right,” he said.

Hansen is enrolled in a fire science program offered through the Spokane Skills Center, a career education program which trains Spokane-area students in 15 different fields.

He and around 20 students attend classes in the mornings at their high school and in the afternoon, they travel to East Valley High School to take the class.

Taught by Neal Kimball, the fire science classes are offered at East Valley and at Riverside high schools. Kimball teaches the class at Riverside in the mornings and at East Valley in the afternoons. The students learn about wild land fires, structure fires and how to be a first responder. Kimball started the classes six years ago in the Riverside School District with students from the Riverside, Deer Park and Mead districts. The class formed a partnership with Fire District 4 to teach the students how to use the equipment and fight fires.

Kimball also led an Explorers post, which is a worksite-based program through Boy Scouts of America, to generate interest in fire sciences with high school-aged students. At the beginning of this school year, the program expanded to Spokane Valley where the Spokane Valley Fire Department helps with training.

Kimball said students receive college credit for the class. If the students are in the program for two years, they can receive up to 17 transferable credits.

The class also teaches leadership and organizational skills. Students in the class have rank, much like they would in a firehouse. Hansen is the class battalion commander. His classmates Zac Persello, 18, and Jake Naccarato, 17, are the company commanders.

On Feb. 19, the students were in a regional fire science competition at Spokane Community College. The students had a chance to win a place in the state competition in Yakima.

The three said they were tested in challenges such as dragging a 300-foot fire hose, setting up self-contained breathing apparatus and putting on personal protection equipment. They also participated in mock job interviews.

Hansen said the winners weren’t necessarily the ones who could complete the tasks the fastest.

“It was more of the perfection of how you did it,” Hansen said.

Hansen won the competition and Persello came in fourth.

The three students spend some of their free time volunteering at firehouses. Naccarato, who attends Spokane Valley High School, said he volunteers at Fire District 4. Hansen said he has volunteered there once, as well. Persello, who attends West Valley High School, is a volunteer in Priest Lake.

They feel the skills they learned will help them meet their goals of becoming firefighters.

“A lot of people think you go into a fire and spray water on it,” Naccarato said. He said he’s learned techniques about how to do it right.

Most importantly, they are learning how to help people during an emergency.

“None of them are ever having a good day,” Naccarato said. Hansen agreed and said he hoped that he could at least make a bad situation better for someone They have to be strong mentally for what they could face on an emergency call.

“You have to have a strong stomach,” Hansen said. “You’ve got to have your wits about you.”