Wichita students gear up to practice firefighting

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News,Science and Technology

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — It's one thing to study firefighting by reading books and listening to lectures, but quite another to put on air tanks, masks and 80 pounds of gear and practice hauling a heavy hose.

A converted photography darkroom at Wichita South High School is providing such an experience for students in a fire science class, and some are coming through the challenging drills contemplating futures as firefighters, The Wichita Eagle reports (http://bit.ly/14C4jWt ).

"It's a lot harder than it looks," Zach Culver, a senior in the fire science program, said after recent run-through with a hose. "We did pretty good, but a couple times the hose kept kinking up and kind of slowed us down. I didn't expect the hose to get as kinked as it did."

Carpentry students at Wichita South rebuilt the former darkroom for the fire science program into a multi-room, two-story structure with walls, window cut-outs, a staircase and even a collapsible floor for practicing real-life firefighting scenarios.

The fire science program started two years ago as a partnership between the school district, the Sedgwick County Fire Department and Hutchinson Community College. Students who complete the classes earn up to 5 1/2 hours of credit toward an associate's degree in fire science or emergency medical science at the community college, and some are ready to complete fire or EMT testing after they graduate.

"It's awesome," said Will Schultz, 17, a senior who plans to pursue firefighting as a career after graduation. "It helps get us more comfortable with real situations."

Fire science instructor Kyle Haught said the drills teach both the mechanics of firefighting and the critical skills of coordination and communication in a demanding situation.

"It's a lot of teamwork, because you've got four to six people involved in doing a single task," Haught said.

For the hose drill, students paired up in teams to practice putting on gear, climbing the ladder and running the hose, which was filled with sand to mimic the weight of water.

Most teams hit a few kinks along the way. Clint Reed, a Sedgwick County fire investigator and consultant for the high school classes, debriefed the students and offered tips afterward.

"Your pinch points, or friction points, are right there, right there — everywhere there's a corner," Reed said, sketching a floor plan of the structure on the classroom whiteboard. "It's all about communicating with each other, knowing where your friction points are, and moving enough hose to where you can move.

Culver, who partnered with classmate David Lowry for one of the day's fastest and smoothest drills, said he enrolled in the program for fun. Now he thinks he might pursue firefighting or some type of emergency management field as a career.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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