Young adults fired up for learning on island

Unique cadet training program offered at GISS

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By Mitchell Sherrin

Driftwood Contributor

Salt Spring Island is now hosting a first-of-its-kind firefighting training program for high-school and college students.

“We are very excited to partner with Pender Island Fire Rescue and the Gulf Islands School District on this innovative project,” said Salt Spring Island Fire Rescue Fire Chief Arjuna George.

The Gulf Island Fire Cadet Program allows students to learn firefighting skills while collecting high-school credits, college credits and a valuable trade — all while serving the community, George noted.

“I was stunned being invited to the program because there was never any course like this in the province before, leaving me little hope of achieving my dreams of becoming a firefighter,” said fire cadet James Tromp.

Tromp commutes from Victoria each Friday for classes that run from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

“The program can be quite difficult to schedule around especially being in my senior year of high school, but it’s definitely worth the early mornings to have such a good time,” Tromp said.

The new GIFCP is much like successful apprenticeship programs with carpentry and culinary students that have been running for years at Gulf Islands Secondary School.

“Gulf Islands, Saanich and Victoria all have partnership agreements with College of the Rockies, so that this program is available to students tuition-free,” said Maggie Allison, Gulf Islands School District manager of Career Development and Community Initiatives

By the end of their studies, fire cadets will receive 360 hours of firefighting instruction, 16 high-school credits, COTR university credits and international trades certification that meets firefighting standards set by the National Fire Protection Association, said SSIFR Assistant Chief Jamie Holmes.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Holmes. “I wish it was around when I was in high school.”

Apart from $500 for textbooks and certification fees, the full program has no additional costs to students, said Holmes. COTR normally charges over $14,000 for its certified fire-training academy.

The local fire cadet program is the only one of its kind in B.C., confirmed COTR fire and compliance administrator Wendy Moore.

Each of the cadets has previously participated in the Gulf Islands Fire Cadet Camp, which runs during the spring break on Pender Island every other year.

“When I was at the camp, they asked all the cadets if they wanted to continue and I said ‘yes.’ A lot of other kids did too,” said fire cadet and GISS student Wyatt Sawchuk. “So my school’s [career] counsellor and SSIFR worked together to create a dual-credit course, and they offered it to everyone that did the cadet camp on Pender Island.”

He’s attending the program along with his sister Cheyenne.

And it’s noteworthy that there is equal gender parity within the 10 fire cadets, when women have been underrepresented historically within the firefighting profession.

“It’s a great opportunity for high school students to get involved and learn about different career paths with firefighting, or first-response careers,” said fire cadet Ella Baker.

Students from the area will  attend classes every Friday until June. Baker is among two fire-camp graduates who have gone on to university and enrolled in the cadet program.

“Being in university it is a lot of extra work, but this is something I’m really interested in, and I know it’s worth it,” said Baker.

She was born and raised on Salt Spring Island but moved to Victoria to attend university.

“I rearranged my schedule for university to make sure I don’t have any classes on Fridays.”

Most of the program participants hope to obtain a career in the emergency-response field once they complete their training. Consequently, local fire cadets like Baker could be the face of the future among regional departments.

“When I’m done the course in June, I would like to start looking for a paid-on-call position and see where that takes me.”

The writer is a lieutenant and fire-prevention officer for SSIFR.

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