To the rescue: Seniors earn firefighter certification


Seniors Ky-Nam Nguyen (left) and Will Ehrensperger must train for 180 hours before they can earn their Volunteer Firefighter Certification.

The firefighters race to put on 60 pounds of gear. They climb up three stories on a shaking ladder pulling up a 10 pound cone from the ground and then race back down the steps. They repeat this five times. It is hard for them to breathe through the oxygen tanks and this is just training.
Work Based Learning provides seniors Will Ehrensperger and Ky-nam Nguyen with the opportunity to earn their Volunteer Firefighter Certification through the Decatur Fire Department.

Over the summer, Work Based Learning teacher Brent Eickhoff met with fire department Captain Stephanie Burton to discuss the program.

“[Burton] asked if I had any students who might be interested, and I knew Will, and I knew Ky-nam, and I said yes . . . Will’s the kind of kid that’ll do anything as long as it’s a meaningful experience,” Eickhoff said.

In the program, Ehrensperger and Nguyen learn how to gear up, participate in ladder drills, enter buildings, respond to rescue calls and locate equipment on the fire engine.
The program is held at the Decatur Fire Department. Ehrensperger heads over during sixth period, and Nguyen goes during seventh.

While the two are there, they join the firefighters in their drills. They go around to the side of the fire station, where the tower to the windows and are sent up the ladder. They kick it in and enter through it. When they reach the top of the ladder, they have to jump about two feet to reach the window. Timing their jump is crucial.

“You’re in the moment thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this right the first time because I don’t want to fall,’” Ehrensperger said.

They practice drills to simulate entering a burning building from an elevated position. While one team heads up the ladder, the other team runs through the building and up the stairs.

Although Ehrensperger and Nguyen accompany the squad on rescue calls and practice drills, they still have plenty of down time at the fire station. Ehrensperger loves the food, and says all firefighters can cook.

“That stereotype is true,” Ehrensperger said.

The time the firefighters spend together lets them get to know each other. Nguyen considers the firefighters not only a team, but also a family.

“They’ll make fun of you. They’ll tease you,” Nguyen said. “We are considered little brothers because we’re rookies.”

Ehrensperger is not surprised that the firefighters are so close because “they spend a third of their lives together.” He spends most of his time with a group firefighters on the C shift – a group that normally works together in the station.

“I’m pretty close with Coleman on C shift. Really anyone on C shift . . . but it seems like Coleman has been looking out for me,” Ehrensperger said.

While there is a family-like camaraderie at the firehouse, there is also a critical side to it. The two know they must brace themselves for the seriousness of firefighting.

“The chief told me there’s going to be some stuff we see that’s not normal,” Nguyen said. “[Every so often] there’s going to be brain matter splashed all over the place, [and] dismemberment of limbs.”

While they certainly do not look forward to such scenes, they do look forward to helping out in the community.

“The way I was raised made me want to always help people,” Ehrensperger said.

Nguyen and Ehrensperger believe students should consider opportunities through Work Based Learning because they can open up doors to the unknown.

“[Through Work Based Learning,] you get a behind the scenes preview,” Nguyen said. “You get to see what occurs in the world when you’re not there.”