Joshua Diaz was thrown out of a window and excited about it.
The Kenai Central High School senior is the smallest of 10 district students participating in Nikiski Fire Station No. 2’s basic firefighter academy, which means he’s the one going out the window.
“We were practicing ladders and I’m tiny so I got thrown out the window from the fire,” Diaz explained. “We had learned knots before that, lots of them, and a lot of different smoke drills and rope rapelling. It’s all so exciting and fun and interesting”
The weeklong academy is a first for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, who was able to send the ten students to Nikiski to earn their state certifications through grants, according to Stephen Robertson, an adjunct professor with Kenai Peninsula College and engineer firefighter in Nikiski.
“This is the pilot program for the district,” Roberston said. “It’s your first step into firefighting, to get someone certified and be able to have that base knowledge of it.”
The station has offered similar programs in the past, through EXCEL Alaska for Western Alaska students, but this is the first time Kenai Peninsula students had the opportunity to earn their certifications in the local station.
“The cool part for us is that can get them hooked now,” Robertson said. “If they get hooked on it young, then they have a long, healthy career ahead of them and it starts to replace the older guys.”
The academy met five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the student’s spring break and, while most students usually tend to avoid tests over the holidays, the week culminates in a written exam.
“I’m not worried about the test,” Randee Johnson of Kenai Central High School said. “We’re ready for it. We’ve been studying for it all week.”
Each student that passes the test will leave the academy with a state certification. Those under 18-years-old will become certified apprentices and those over 18 become certified basic firefighters. From there, students can move on to a 12-credit course at Kenai Peninsula College to continue their firefighting training.
“The week’s gone really well,” Robertson said. “We have ten kids and they’re all eager to learn, listening really well and paying attention. They seem to be having fun. Today we cut up two cars, did some live fire. They felt the heat a little bit.”
Each of the students, who came from across the Central Peninsula and Homer, expressed interest in continuing their studies.
“It’s a rewarding profession,” Audrey Hopper of Soldotna High School said. “It’d be nice to see myself in this, never really in an office and doing something so different, helping people.”
The response from the program has been so positive that the college and school district are planning to continue their collaboration with more programs, such as emergency trauma technology, according to Chair of Fire and EMS at Kenai Peninsula College Paul Perry.
Perry was fielding questions from the students about next steps in between training sessions, guiding them towards the right classes or, if he was unsure, the right person to ask.
“Don’t forget to say that ‘I truly believe this is the next generation of great firefighters,’” Braedon Stigall of Soldotna High School called out to Perry as he was walking towards ladder training.
“The reality is, he’s not far off,” Perry said.