Firefighting 101


Several C-K high schools offer classroom exposure to this career

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A unique made-in-Chatham-Kent education experience continues to expose local youth to careers in emergency services and firefighting.

The program, a collaboration between the Lambton-Kent District School Board and Chatham-Kent Fire & Rescue (CKFR), is one of the first in the province to bring the world of firefighting right into the classroom.

Dubbed the “Firefighter in a High School Exploration Initiative,” the effort started in Ridgetown in 2023. This year it expanded to high school students in Tilbury and Blenheim, while marking its second year in Ridgetown.

Bringing fresh recruits to the fire service is vital, CKFR Chief Chris Case said, because Chatham-Kent is a growing community.

“Now more than ever, we need to be ready to influence the firefighters of tomorrow,” the chief said while attending the graduating ceremony of the Blenheim District High School class, noting the work of a firefighter is multi-faceted and is more than kicking down doors and going into burning buildings.

The job’s many rewards include fire prevention and keeping people safe, Case said.

“Our number one priority is to prevent fires and we’re really good at doing it,” Case said, noting that’s a side of the job people don’t see.

The course, which started after March Break, saw Station 18 firefighters visit the classroom once a week, sharing real-life stories of what it means to be a firefighter and first responder and the journey to get there.

All aspects of the job were presented, as well as the role firefighters play with other agencies and community supports. Subjects such as math and chemistry are also incorporated.

CKFR public educator Whitney Burk said the course is getting a positive response.

“As we tell our stories, we’re also impacting what type of education they need to get and especially the importance of graduating high school,” Burk explained, noting both volunteer and career firefighters need a diploma.

“It’s really a full-circle partnership,” she added. “It’s good for us, because we’re going to need firefighters in our community and it’s good for the schools, as we can give somebody a reason to graduate. I think everybody in the community wins.

“Being a first responder is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done so if we can teach that to our youth, I think we’ve done a good thing,” she said.

As well, said Burk, students need to be aware they can have another job or career while serving as a volunteer, noting the course is aimed at bringing more volunteers into the fold.

BDHS Grade 12 student Ashley Pepper is considering a career as a first responder and is currently looking at the educational requirements to become a 911 dispatch operator.

Though she didn’t take the course, she took part in the graduating ceremony of the Blenheim class, as students tried their hand at handling a firehose.

Firefighting is out as she’s not crazy about heights, but Pepper thinks dispatching is a good career choice.

“You’re still helping people, you’re still doing the job, you’re still in touch with everything that’s going on,” Pepper said. “It’s something I want to look into.”


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