By Gord Schreiner
Comox Fire Rescue has recently hosted our 10th, bi-annual Firefighter Youth Camp. The camps started as a way to teach teenagers some fire prevention and life safety skills. The camps are the biggest (and most successful) public project our department manages.
By Gord Schreiner
The camps require an incredible amount of work to host.
Thirty-six grade eleven and 12 students attend the camps. To date, over 300 students have attended. Enrollment in these intense camps is managed through the local school district and students get work experience credits for attending.
The students start their days with a 7:00 am tower run where they run 50 flights of stairs before breakfast. Breakfast is served at 7:30. At 8:15 they attend a 45-minute classroom session. Topics include fire prevention, life safety, team building and leadership. From 9:00 am to 9:00 pm each day (yup, 12 hours per day) they rotate though various activities at our fire training centre with plenty of refreshments and meal breaks in between. Students get one hour of free time from 9:00 pm to 10:00 pm then it is lights out. Students are housed acrossthe street from the fire station at our Community Centre with adult chaperons on duty each night. During their four days, the students are subject to all sorts of basic firefighter training including but not limited to SCBA, ladders, ropes and knot, search and rescue, auto ex., high-angle, hazmat, firefighter rescue drills, live fire and first-aid. A motivational speaker is brough in on one of the evening to speak to the students. One of the students’ highlights are the midnight call-outs on the last night. Students are rustled out of bed, one platoon at a time and respond to a simulated emergency involving real fire and smoke. These emergencies also involve rescuing one of our many training “dummies”, which by now the students have become very familiar with.
Students are divided into four platoons with representation from all schools, ages and genders on each. About a third of the participants are females. Each platooon selects their own leader and the leaders are responsible to ensure they platoon members work together and gets to where they need to be on time. Platoon do not get to eat until the entire platloon is clean-up and seated. Leaders can be replaced with another student from the platoon if they do not do a good job (just like real life). An accountibilty tag system is used to track students on their platoons. Each subject is delivered by at least four trained firefighters (in many cases more) so we have a very good instructor/student ratio. Firefighters from several other departments sign up to assists us including some who are alumni of earlier camps. Firefighters rotate through different positions including being on response standby as we know we will have a few “real” responses during the camps.
While the camps were never intended to be a recruitment tool they have proven to do just that. We have found that about 15 per cent of the students go on to become volunteer firefighters with a handful of past students having obtained full-time fire service careers already.
The camps also received huge support from our local businesses and service clubs. Many businesses donate food and goods while some service clubs provide additional funding. Students are given firefighter camp clothing like hats, t-shirts and hoodies. They are also issued safety gear like hard-hats, glasses, gloves and hearing protection all of which they get to keep.
The camps have been very popular with our local politicans and citizens as well with lots of them attending the last days public event where the students showcase their new skills. At the completion of the camps students receive a certificate of completion and will shake hands with all of the firefighters who assisted. Thery then go home for a much needed rest.
It is great to see our firefighters working hand in hand with the students. It is also very rewarding to see the students grow as they gain more confidence and skills. One of our best rewards is hearing from the parents a couple weeks after the camps telling us we made a very positive impact in their students life. It makes us very proud to be able to do so. Our department is very progressive and active. We are involved everywhere in our community. Out of all of the things we do, delivering these camps is one of the best. We could not do such good work without the amazing commitment and deciation from our firefifghters. If you want to make a signifcant difference in your community, host a Firefighter Youth Camp even if it is just for a day or two. For more information please contact: Fire Chief Gord Schreiner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire.