High school students from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District wrap up a day of training at Nikiski Fire Station. The group is part of the pilot program, basic firefighter academy, which included a week of training and culminates in the students becoming licensed by the state. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

High school students from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District wrap up a day of training at Nikiski Fire Station. The group is part of the pilot program, basic firefighter academy, which included a week of training and culminates in the students becoming licensed by the state. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Pilot program sparks passion

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.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

Joshua Diaz, a Kenai Central High School senior, leads his fellow students in a trianing exercise during Thursday’s basic firefighting academy at Nikiski Fire Station. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Joshua Diaz, a Kenai Central High School senior, leads his fellow students in a trianing exercise during Thursday’s basic firefighting academy at Nikiski Fire Station. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Randee Johnson, a senior at Kenai Central High School, participates in firefighter training at Nikiski Fire Station in Nikiski on Thursday. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Randee Johnson, a senior at Kenai Central High School, participates in firefighter training at Nikiski Fire Station in Nikiski on Thursday. (Photo by Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

Courtesy photo / Juneau Raptor Center
This golden eagle was rescued by the Juneau Raptor Center over the summer after being found weak and thin.
Rescue center, birdwatchers look back on 2021

Juneau Christmas bird count was way down this year.

This satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), shows an undersea volcano eruption at the Pacific nation of Tonga Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (NICT via AP)
Tsunami advisory issued after eruption

An undersea volcano erupted Friday near the South Pacific island of Tonga, triggering concerns of damaging waves across Pacific coastlines

Flowers bloom at Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday, June 24, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Multiple public works projects underway in Soldotna

Soldotna City Council received an update on eight different projects

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Hospitalizations rise as state reports increase in COVID cases

There were a total of 112 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska as of Friday

Terri Carter’s class celebrates the National Blue Ribbon award after their assembly at Soldotna Montessori Charter School on Friday, Jan 14, 2022. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)
A ‘pathway to a brighter and fulfilling future’

Soldotna Montessori Charter School celebrates national achievement

Homer City Council member Rachel Lord discusses her concerns with funding the Alaska Small Business Development Center Homer Business Advisory position during the Jan. 10 council meeting. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Council says ‘yes to small businesses’

Homer City Council votes 4-2 in favor of partially funding the Homer Business Advisory position.

AP Photo / Becky Bohrer
Sightseeing buses and tourists are seen at a pullout popular for taking in views of North America’s tallest peak, Denali, in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on Aug. 26, 2016.
Bridge proposed along section of slumping Denali park road

Landslides in the area go back decades but usually required maintenance every two to three years

A sign directs voters at Soldotna City Hall on March 5, 2019. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Locals to join national voting rights march Saturday

The march in Soldotna is part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Action

Soldotna City Hall is seen on Wednesday, June 23, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna approves $32,000 federal grant for airport

The funds were made available through the American Rescue Plan Act for improvement projects at the Soldotna Municipal Airport

Most Read