RICHMOND, Va. – While their classmates sat in class, a dozen students from Hanover High School in Mechanicsville, Va., spent a recent morning climbing ladders, pulling hoses toward simulated fires and carrying dummies out of a training truck.
On the rainy morning, the 12 students fought simulated fires inside a state-owned Mobile Live Fire Trainer, a two-story trailer modeled after a single-family home. The April 30 exercise at the school was part of a two-semester course offered by the Hanover County school system and the county’s fire and EMS department.
The 12 juniors and seniors in the Hanover High School Fire Academy are expected to finish at the end of the school year and become state-certified firefighters.
“At first, it’s nerve-racking,” Hanover High senior Angelina Piccolomini said.
When she started the live fire training, she often forgot to communicate during search-and-rescue operations.
“But you get the hang of it and you learn more each time from mistakes,” Piccolomini said.
In the trailer, simulated fires can be turned on and off, and the vehicle’s operators can reconfigure the internal layout to pose different challenges for students.
The day of the test, the 12 students were divided into four teams that rotated through different responsibilities. The fire attack team had to find an entrance, locate the fire and put it out. The search-and-rescue team was assigned to find a dummy and carry it out of harm’s way. The rapid-intervention crew supported the interior firefighters, hoisted ladders and cared for victims. The last team rested in a tent.
“There are multiple things you have to think about at the same time,” said Josh Fleming, a junior at Atlee High School, which also is in Mechanicsville. “The structure of the building, where the fire is, are there any victims and how much of the hose is coming in.”
Fleming and his team rested in the tent, helmets off and hair matted to their foreheads from the rain. The physically hardest part of the training, he said, was bringing the hose inside the training truck. The hose was about 200 feet long, and between 30 and 100 feet of it had to be pulled inside the training truck.
“It’s hard to move with the hose,” Fleming said.
On the high school field, the students were distinguishable from county firefighters because of their smaller frames and blue helmets. The students can earn yellow helmets and be certified after completing 40 hours of live fire training, during which they learn to make forced entry into homes, perform search operations and handle hazardous material situations.
Hanover County’s budget for the coming fiscal year includes a $98,081 grant for the high school program.
Some students who have finished the school’s certification program have come back to work as firefighters in the county, said Jason Williams, a Hanover Fire-EMS battalion chief and spokesman.