As Garrett Gregson leads, Cassie Stewart and Kehaulani Planesi work the hose during a drill last Friday at the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority’s Summer Fire School. Firefighter and instructor Marvin Oakcrum mans the controls. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Fire school provides teens real-life look at emergency service careers

Firefighting is in Kehaulani Planesi’s blood.

Her father is a fireman, her grandfather was one, too. Her mother is a cop.

Planesi hopes to continue her family’s first-responder legacy by becoming a firefighter one day.

To experience something similar to the real deal, Planesi joined other Kent-area teens who participated in the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority’s Summer Fire School at the Station 74 training center last week.

“It’s a challenge. It’s a good experience,” said Planesi, a good all-around athlete and a senior-to-be at Kentlake High School, between drills last Friday. “I realized it’s all about teamwork. I didn’t realize how difficult it was to be a firefighter until I came to this camp. I have a whole new respect for firefighters.”

The free, comprehensive, seven-day camp provided teens from the Kent and Tahoma (Maple Valley) school districts with a hands-on feel and a close-up look at the profession.

Dressed in “bunker gear,” cadets learned skills and maneuvers and took on several training opportunities such as handling ground ladders, hauling and spraying hoses of different sizes, activating hydrants and applying other equipment. They completed search-and-rescue drills in dark and cramped crawl spaces, attended CPR/first aid classes and toured Valley Communications, the 911 call receiving and dispatching center for South King County.

They also heard from junior and senior firefighters about their careers, met paramedics and listened to mechanics who work on the fire engines and other emergency apparatus.

For the cadets, it was an interesting and rewarding experience.

“I did it last year, and it became very interesting to me,” said Emanuel Garcia, a Kentridge graduate.

Garcia, who has been working as an apprentice plumber for his father’s company, is considering a career as a firefighter.

“It looks like a pretty good job,” he said. “It’s exciting. I enjoy it.”

The purpose of the school is to attract young talent to the world of firefighting and emergency-response-related jobs. The profession encourages many recruits to apply, including women and minorities.

According to Capt. Kyle Ohashi, spokesman for Puget Sound Fire, the camp presents and explains the many career possibilities of fire department life, from administration to IT work, from the chaplain’s role to emergency services in general. The camp also serves as a stepping stone for those teens interested in volunteering for the King County Fire Zone 3 Explorers, a program that prepares young men and women to become firefighters.

“It’s about letting the kids find out that there’s a physical side to it,” Ohashi said, “but that there are also different aspects of the fire department. … There’s a lot more to a fire department than just firefighting.

“It’s to push them a little bit, but also to introduce them to something that they may not have thought about as a job.”

Like Planesi, Connor Plett represents the next generation of firefighter. He may follow the footsteps of his father, Gordon, a firefighter with Maple Valley Fire and Life Safety.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories from my dad, and here I get to live it out,” said Plett, a junior-to-be at Kentwood High School.

Fire school was difficult at times, requiring teens to think quickly and exert some muscle.

For instance, a confusing search-and-rescue mission in a damaged, abandoned building on training center grounds put the heavily-equipped cadets to the test.

“It’s a lot of work,” said cadet Garrett Gregson, a Kentwood student. “You can’t see what you’re doing or where you are going.”

Planesi aggressively took on the task as Company A leader.

“It was difficult,” she said of leading her team. “It’s one of the challenges you have to figure out. You have to problem solve and get out of the situation.”

Cadet Kehaulani Planesi, A Company leader, leads her team on a search-and-rescue mission in a damaged, abandoned building on the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority’s training center during a fire school for teens last week. MARK KLAAS, Kent Reporter

Cadet Kehaulani Planesi talks during drils.

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