Steven Jacob, 19, from the Kuskokwim Learning Academy, practices using the jaws of life on a car with the help of instructor Bryan Crisp of the Nikiski Fire Department (right) on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at the department’s Station No. 2 in Nikiski, Alaska. Jacob and several other Western Alaska students spent the week getting basic firefighter training through Excel Alaska’s Camp Kick Ash. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Sparking an interest: Western Alaska students get schooled in firefighting skills camp

Most people won’t ever see the jaws of life in action during an accident, let alone wield the machine themselves, but that’s exactly what 15 rural Alaska students got to do last week in Nikiski.

The high schoolers were at the Nikiski Fire Department participating in Camp Kick Ash through EXCEL Alaska. A nonprofit that started in 2012, the organization connects students in rural Western Alaska schools with personal development, leadership and skills training opportunities to better set them up for future careers.

“We have six different districts that we partner with,” said Tony Wilson, a certified teacher with EXCEL.

In addition to its core programs for seventh through 12th graders, the nonprofit offers several camps focusing on welding, construction, heavy equipment and other career opportunities.

Camp Kick Ash is a week-long crash course in basic firefighting training and was held last week for the second year at the Nikiski Fire Station, through Kenai Peninsula College. The teens also completed two weeks of Emergency Trauma Technician training and were certified in it prior to the firefighting camp.

Wilson said an instructor at Kenai Peninsula College turned the organization on to the resources at Nikiski Fire.

“Over the past couple years we’ve been working with KPC,” Wilson said. “The last two summers we had our summer camp on the KPC campus.”

Throughout the week, students learned things like forcible entry, rescue techniques, how to put out live fires and how to extract people from vehicles.

On Wednesday afternoon, 18-year-old Simon Andrews, who attends Mountain Village School, rappelled down the side of the tower at Nikiski’s Fire Station No. 2 with 17-year-old Alakanuk School student Leona Wasky in tow, practicing a rescue skill. With Wasky strapped onto a board, Andrews climbed up the side of the wall and rapelled back down with her, with the help of the other students.

“They’re really fun (and) exciting,” Andrews said of the camp’s drills.

Andrews plans to go into a field that involves the firefighting and emergency trauma technician training he’s gotten through EXCEL.

“Somewhere in that area,” he said.

On Thursday, students moved on to vehicle extraction. They took turns smashing the glass windows of a car and also tried their hand operating the jaws of life to break away the vehicle’s doors. While the teens won’t be certified at the end of the experience, they’ll have all the basics they need to pursue a career in firefighting, said Bryan Crisp, Nikiski Fire’s training and safety officer.

“We’re basically just covering all basic firefighter stuff, just to give them a little introduction to what our career is,”Crisp said.

The students caught on quickly to some of the skills, like being able to get into all their firefighting gear in under a minute, Crisp said.

Carlene Liskey, a supervisor with EXCEL, said she was impressed with the students’ progress. Liskey went through Camp Kick Ash and the emergency trauma technician training offered through EXCEL herself as a high schooler, which sparked an interest in the work and led to her going through a paramedic program. Now, she’s come full circle to attend Camp Kick Ash again through her job with EXCEL to support the students coming after her.

Reach Megan Pacer at

Mountain Village School student Simon Andrews, 18, rappels down the side of a wall carrying his “patient,” 17-year-old Leona Wasky of Alakanuk High School, under the instruction of Nikiski Fire Department Training and Safety Officer Bryan Crisp on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 in Nikiski, Alaska. A handful of Western Alaska students received basic firefighting training at the Nikiski Fire Department all week through Excel Alaska’s Camp Kick Ash. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

Students from Western Alaska schools participating in Excel Alaska’s Camp Kick Ash thrust their hands into the air after their instructor, Bryan Crisp of the Nikiski Fire Department, asks who would like to be the first to break a glass car window, on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at Nikiski Fire Station 2 in Nikiski, Alaska. The students got schooled in basic firefighting techniques during the week-long camp hosted at the fire department. (Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion)

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