Craig Fire/Rescue kicks off new year with rookie academy
Craig — An incident in California eight years ago led Nigel Rogers back to Craig Fire/Rescue to become a firefighter. He’s one of six recruits enrolled in the 2015 Craig Fire/Rescue rookie academy.
Rogers said that in 2007 or 2008, he was driving in the country near Redding, California, when he spotted a dump truck overturned with the driver still inside and a telephone pole knocked to the ground.
“(The telephone pole) went down and sparked the grass on fire and then the grass got to the truck and then the diesel fuel, with the truck being on its side, it was spilling and it all ignited, and I grabbed him out of there,” Rogers said. “It was kind of out of the movies; it burned all the way around us and we had to jump through and everything, it was crazy.”
The adrenaline rush of jumping in and helping someone without thinking had Rogers hooked. He wanted to be a firefighter ever since the experience in California, and he said the timing with his job and family worked out for this year’s academy.
The half-dozen firefighter hopefuls all share a common trait: the desire to help and serve their community and are working to do so on Craig’s volunteer fire team.
Cade Bangs said he public service runs in his family. He is a fifth generation firefighter and loves the familial feeling of the firehouse.
“What’s not my favorite part?” Bangs said. “I love being down here, everything’s still pretty new, but it’s starting to get better and click a little bit more.”
He said he and his brother used to spend days at the firehouse with their dad or grandpa, and the excitement of being in a firehouse and going on calls, even without suiting up, kept him excited about firefighting from a young age.
Bangs and Rogers said their employers have both been flexible about the sometimes demanding schedule of a firefighter.
Darrek Stoffel is not only training to become a firefighter with Craig Fire/Rescue, but he’s also got a full-time job and is enrolled in school full-time. He said it is a serious time commitment and he wishes he had more free time to go on calls.
Stoffel comes from a public service background, too.
“My dad is a cop, so I guess I always grew up around people that helped people,” Stoffel said. “But I knew that I never wanted to be a cop.”
After going through emergency rescue training at work, Stoffel concluded firefighting was for him.
Jennifer Yanta said her family’s background in fire rescue also pushed her toward the gig.
“My grandfather was a volunteer firefighter for 16 years. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something bigger and help people,” Yanta said. “I have gained a whole other family joining the fire department, and I couldn’t be more thankful to be working next to such incredible men and women who dedicate their spare time to this community.”
Jesse Doolin, a full-time employee at Tri-State Generation and Transmission, said his desire to complete the rookie academy also comes from a public service standpoint. He’s wanted to do the academy for five years, but his work schedule wasn’t permitting until this year.
“I’m here to save lives and help people,” Doolin said.
So far he’s enjoyed the hands-on training the most.
The oldest of this year’s rookie academy, Guy Bradshaw, said he feels he’s the “de facto” leader because of his age and past military experience. More is expected of Bradshaw, he said, because of his background and age.
“I’m cool with it; that’s how it should be. I don’t run as fast as I used to but they can expect more out of me as far as the mental stuff goes,” Bradshaw said.
He misses the camaraderie and brotherhood in the military, and Craig Fire/Rescue helps him reconnect to that feeling.
“There’s not a one of them that you can’t ask for help and they won’t go out of their way to help professionally or personally, if they can,” the 12-year military veteran said.
The firefighter rookies will indeed have plenty of time to form a bond. The orientation to the program was Jan. 3, and Lt. Doug Willems — one of the main practitioners of the training — said they’ll likely conclude early or mid-summer.
The six have already gone out on some calls, though.
Stoffel said as soon as the engine rolled out and the sirens wailed on his first call, his heart began to pound. Rogers agreed it’s a rush to go on a call, especially this early in the academy.
Capt. Kevin Kernen said they are able to help with small tasks at first, like retrieving tools. After they receive their personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus, “they’ll be of real use to us,” Kernen joked.
February and the first part of March will contain the rookies’ hazmat training. Craig Fire/Rescue has a regional hazmat team, and Kernen said sometimes responders have to know how to handle hazmat situations on calls involving vehicle crashes, similar to the one Rogers experienced.
When the rookies complete the training, they’ll have to take and pass the Firefighter 1 exam, a state-certified and proctored test. They’ll also have to pass a separate hazmat exam. Both tests are proctored in Gypsum.
Bangs said although he’s enjoying the learning experience during training, he’s most excited to pass both exams.
Though the rookies have gone on calls, they haven’t been a part of injury teams and won’t be until they’ve had a significant amount of live burn training, Kernen and Willems said. Even after all of the live burns, Kernen said, they’ll go in with an experienced firefighter for quite some time.
All rookie firefighters at Craig Fire/Rescue are in a probationary period for at least the first year, and Kernen said all rookies are rookies in the academy, no matter their previous job.
“You could’ve been a lieutenant somewhere else, and came here, and you’re going to through the rookie program,” Willems said.
If all six rookies complete Firefighter 1 and the hazmat exam, Craig Fire/Rescue will have 30 firefighters on staff. Kernen said 30 is the ideal number, and he and Willems are both confident this year’s class will pass with flying colors.
“As of right now, they look like a very strong bunch of recruits; they’ve all got obviously various life experiences, but they listen and comprehend well and seem pretty sharp,” Willems said.
Kernen agreed and said he’s most excited about their attitudes.
“For me, I like seeing that they’re enthusiastic,” he said. “They’re here because they want to be here and they’re happy to be here, and that’s a big deal.”
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