Student firefighters feel the burn

Student firefighters were out at the FSJ Fire Department’s burn building learning skills May 20-21.

Davin Birdi

Davin Birdi

The weather wasn’t the only thing that was burning hot this past week, student firefighters were out at the FSJ Fire Department’s burn building learning skills in fire rescue and supressing building fires during the annual Project Fire Fighter event in Fort St. James.

Grade 11 and 12 students from Fort St. James, Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and Fraser Lake converged in the town to take part in the yearly event that provides a learning environment the junior firefighters might not otherwise get in their home communities.

Dirk Hofer, with the Burns Lake Fire Department, has been volunteering with the program for 8 years. His first year, he said the program needed an extra body and so he went through the program with the students and from that experience he joined the fire department in Burns Lake and never looked back.

“(Fighting fires) gets right in to you,” he said.

Hoefer said the opportunity to experience a real burning building is something the students are fortunate to take part in and something professional fire service personnel often don’t get to practice.

“Who else throws kids into a burning building?” he said of the unique two-day event.

Darren Carpenter, SD 91 District Career and Trades Programs Coordinator, said the Fire Fighting 12 course offered through the school district brings the students together and incorporates a final exam and graduation for the students over the two-day event.

He added it’s an opportunity for the students to spend time with other firefighters and allows students to understand the reality of being a firefighter.

“We try to create two days in the life of a professional firefighter,” he said. “We take over the (Fort St. James) fire hall … the kids stay there, cook dinner and we wake them up in the morning at some point and bring them back out (to the burn building) in the middle of the night.”

Carpenter said there are 12 students participating in the program this year and said most fire departments have a maximum of four students for each department and the number fluctuates each year between 10 to 14 junior fire fighters.

“It’s a great way to have some fun in a practical way,” Carpenter said.”

The event – the brainchild of Carpenter and his brother J.C., who is down volunteering from Dawson Creek – couldn’t happen without the help of volunteers from the departments, the local fire chief and the district. He added the event and the program are unique to Western Canada.

“It’s kind of a Northern phenomenon, everyone donates their time,” he said. “Everyone sees great value in it.”