Firefighter trainees blaze on towards becoming certified

Jennifer McLaughlin, 19, sat, her back propped up against a brick wall with the legs of her firefighting uniform rolled up to her reddened knees. Skin peeled back from what looked like a small blister.

McLaughlin and Roy Carpenter, 26, had just crawled through a training building on their knees, smothering a straw bale fire with water from a hose.

Surrounded by other firefighter trainees, someone joked, "Looks like we're going to have to amputate."

McLaughlin and Carpenter were two of the 15 people training Saturday at Station No. 2 near the Carson City Airport.

Capt. Dave Miller, a Carson City firefighter from Station No. 3, said the training the students receive is realistic.

"This makes them pros on fighting structure fires," Miller said. "They deal with smoke and heat conditions, and pull a charged line into a structure. There is limited visibility. This is what it is all about."

The trainees have two minutes to suit up from boot to mask. With the heavy clothing and gear, firefighting requires resilience and focus. Inside the suit alone, temperatures become what Miller described as "very, very hot."

But the trainees said they are committed, whatever the challenges, to becoming firefighters.

Lawrence Gonzalez, 27, decided to train after being inspired by a buddy who fought wildfires.

"It gives me a chance to give something back," Gonzalez said.

After entering the training building five times Saturday, Gonzalez said he had played every role, including search and rescue, fire elimination and back up.

Mitch Hammond, a volunteer with Warren Engine Volunteer Company who was helping the trainees, said in retrospect he wished he had become a volunteer sooner than two years ago.

Hammond spends 40 hours a week as a full-time plumber, and 20 hours a week at the station.

"I kick myself for not starting sooner," he said.

For him, the most rewarding part of his volunteer experience has been the teamwork and camaraderie.

"It's a team effort," said Cory Eglash, 40, a trainee. "Everyone looks out for each other."

After completing Saturday's training, the future-firefighters will take a physical and written test to receive their Firefighter I certification. At that point, they can become a volunteer or look for a job with an engine company.

"We always need more men," said Pete Baker, chief of the Warren Engine Volunteer Company.

For trainees like Carpenter, who wanted to be a firefighter since the age of five, finishing training is one step closer to fulfilling his childhood dream.

Fifteen-year-old Scott Biddle folded up a huge hose, still heavy with the weight of water. Training helps make the firefighters accustomed to the weight of firefighting instruments, like picks, axes and hoses.

"You don't have time to think," said Biddle, 15, who has been training since Sept. 11. He has to wait until 18 to receive certification, and currently lends a hand on what he can and goes on ridealongs.

As Gonzalez said, "a firefighter's learning never stops."


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