Camp Fire Axe teaches life lessons

Video: Students in Bend learn how to be firefighters

By Monicia Warner / The Bulletin

Over the next three days, nine students from Bend, Mountain View and Summit high schools will learn what it takes to be a firefighter, and ultimately, decide if it’s the career path for them.

Camp Fire Axe, put on by the Bend Fire Department in coordination with the Bend Firefighters Foundation, seeks to give students ages 15 to 19 the tools they’ll need to begin a career as a firefighter.

The four-day camp is in its seventh year and includes Emergency Medical Services and anatomy classes as well as physical training in hose and ladder-handling, search and rescue, and rappelling buildings.

According to fire camp director Paul Swaggerty, the fire training will focus on how to handle municipal fires and rescues.

Eighty percent of the calls the Bend Fire Department handles are medical-related, and 15 percent involve fighting fires.

“We tell ’em it’s not Hollywood,” he said. “Basically, we give them a real view set so they can make an educated choice. What’s it like when you go to a scene call? How do you talk to patients and figure out what’s wrong? What’s every day like at the firehouse? And what they can expect if they get work in the field.”

Swaggerty began recruiting for the camp in January at local high schools. He’s worked with several of the kids’ families to coordinate scholarships and grants through the foundation and local firefighters union.

“There’s a lot of families who just can’t afford it,” he said. “We go out and find money for them. We don’t turn anyone away because they can’t afford it.”

Camp activities began at 7 a.m. Thursday with a brief workout, safety talk and fire history class. By 11 a.m., the campers were picking out their gear and preparing to witness and extinguish a fire in two simulated outdoor rooms. The class was taught by Deputy Fire Marshal Cindy Kettering.

“The rooms are three-sided. One of them is protected by a sprinkler system,” Swaggerty said. “She lights the fires and we all watch. When it gets to the right temperature, the sprinkler goes off.”

Another class the students participated in was basic anatomy, where they got the opportunity to dissect a cow heart and inflate and deflate a pair of cow lungs. Class instructor and Bend firefighter Steve Vossler said it’s the first time he’s taught the anatomy class but was eager to pass on his knowledge to the students.

“I’ve volunteered the last two summers,” he said. “I think more than the skills, more than the disciples of firefighting, I hope they come away with a desire to (serve) the community in which they live.”

Brydie Burnham, 18, a recent graduate of Bend High, said she’s using the camp and training to plan for her future at College of the Siskiyous this year.

“The college I’m going to has a pretty strong fire program so this would be a good opportunity to see if I like it,” she said. “Some stuff is going to be kind of scary, but a new experience at the same time. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

A few of the students said they decided to sign up for the training not only because of their interest in firefighting as a career, but also because of family ties.

“My uncles are both firefighters; one works here in town, the other one is a captain in Klamath Falls,” said Delcie Hipps, 16, a student at Bend High. “I know it’s work, lots and lots of hard work, but it just always interested me.”

Another Bend High student, Anthony Cardonia, plans to participate in the fire science and EMT programs at Central Oregon Community College when he graduates. His goals involve paying tribute to a family member.

“My cousin, who was a volunteer firefighter, he committed suicide, so I’ve been wanting to do it for him,” he said.

Ekho Morgan, 15, a Mountain View student, said ever since he could remember, he’s wanted to become a professional firefighter.

“I always had the firefighter Lego sets,” he said. “It’s kind of the only thing I’ve ever imagined myself doing as a career and being able to live off of it. I think it’s just good to have an early start.”

The campers will end their training Sunday, showing off their newly acquired skills to their parents in a simulated structure fire and rescue situation.

“I think the most important thing they’re going to get out of fire camp, besides making friends, is confidence that ‘Hey, you know what? I can do the same thing a firefighter can do,’ ” Swaggerty said. “This kind of gives these kids an idea. … It takes them on a path, a good path.”

—Reporter: 541-633-2117, mwarner@bendbulletin.com