Teens train alongside Ventura County firefighters
It’s a hands-on way to introduce youngsters to the intensive training of the fire service.
Teens aged from 13-15 have the chance to experience what it’s like to be a firefighter in Ventura County at a free five-day camp at their training facility in Camarillo.
Rappelling down the steep side of a building at the Ventura County Fire Department’s training center, these teens are putting fear aside to showcase the skills they’ve learned at Junior Fire Academy.
Safety is a priority, as they are harnessed to ropes…several stories high…wearing helmets and some personal protective gear.
"You get to the top and it's a little more intimidating than looking at the top from the bottom," said Brian McGrath from the Ventura County Fire Department, of the steep drop from the training facility structure.
McGrath said that the county's firefighters might need to rappel in the line of duty to reach a vehicle which has gone over the side of a hill, or perhaps for a stranded hiker or during major disasters like earthquakes.
From 9-1-1 dispatch to first aid, and tackling structure fires or brush fires, these teens are being trained for real by the Ventura County Fire Department, as part of the free week-long camp, led by Spencer White - who is a fire fighter at Ventura County Fire Department.
"It's very similar to what our firefighters go through in the academy, just not at the same level," explained White.
"We let them know on the first day they have to operate off the same core values that we do, which is safety, honesty, integrity, trust, teamwork, communication, accountability, respect and service to others," he explained.
White says it’s not just about tempting the boys and girls on the program into a future career in the fire service.
"Although we would love to have each of them come and be firefighters but for us, it's creating an environment where they come and learn some skills and just be better people."
White says parents report a "more respectful atmosphere" at home for those teens on the program.
And White says that even he had to overcome his own fear of heights to take on the rappelling himself, and says that the key is to have trust in your equipment and in those around you.
Lindsey Kern’s 13-year-old daughter Abigail was the first in line to rappel down the building.
"That's my little baby girl!," she exclaimed. "I'm so proud of her."
"It's been very empowering for her because I think there's only 4 or 5 girls here, and here she is, first in line to do all these things, jumping up there and just getting it," said Kern.
Abigail's older brother did the program last year, said Kern, and she puts her enthusiasm to sign up for it down to "sibling rivalry."
And growing up somewhere where wildfires in particular are an ever-present threat, the skills these youngsters learn today, will no doubt be essential in the future – no matter which career they choose.