Daily News photo/ALY GIBSON Crew 1 of the Fire Science Academy, associated with SMC, near closer to a burning vehicle as they extinguish the flames Thursday in Dowagiac.

Archived Story

Academy sparks youth interest

Published 4:13pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cadets donning familiar yellow firefighting uniforms surrounded two vehicles Thursday as they were engulfed in bright orange flames.

In a scene pulled straight from the movies, 11 Educational Talent Search (ETS) Fire Science Academy cadets, associated with Southwestern Michigan College, participated in a burning car exercise at Dowagiac’s sand and gravel pit located off Middle Crossing Road. Throughout the week, students from Cass County high schools attended lectures and fire demonstrations to learn more about fire science. After conducting search and rescue exercises and learning to operate a water hose, the cadets finally got the chance to put their knowledge to the test Thursday.

“This is probably the coolest part of the academy,” Allie Wilson, a Brandywine High School junior, said. “We also got to watch an arson dog in action, which was interesting.”

The cadets were split into two crews. The first crew extinguished a vehicle that was ignited under normal circumstances. The second crew worked to put out the other vehicle, which was doused in an accelerant.

“The two cars were donated by Trues Towing,” Amy Anderson, ETS director, said.

Wilson, who hopes to study forensic science after high school, said the experience was unexpected, but fun.

Daily News photo/ALY GIBSON Dowagiac firefighter Bob Smith helps Fire Science Academy cadet Allie Wilson, of Niles, with her gear before she and a group of fellow cadets extinguish a burning car.

“As we got right up to the car, we had to put it on our shoulders and I was surprised at how heavy it was,” Wilson said.

Edwardsburg High School sophomore Justin Tighe said this was his second time attending the academy.

“I came back because it’s fun putting out fires and learning how to do it correctly,” Tighe, who plans to enlist in the U.S. Army after high school, said. “After serving, I’d like to become a full-time firefighter, so this is great.”

With the help of Wayne Township and Dowagiac fire departments, the cadets got first-hand training from professionals who taught them correct safety procedures.

“This a great learning experience for them,” Wayne Township firefighter Jeff Conklin said. “This teaches them the correct safety practices and maybe gets them interested in becoming volunteers; departments can always use volunteers.”

Brandywine junior Elise Ostrander said she learned the importance of how to extinguish large fires safely. Wilson, fellow classmate of Ostrander, said she didn’t know about effects, such as backdraft, before the academy.

“We found out that you have to work on one thing at a time and approach the fire from one side,” Wilson said.

Tighe said though he and a few other cadets had done this before, the experience was still exciting.

“It was cool to get up closer,” Tighe said. “It gets pretty hot, but it’s fun.”

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