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… and into the fire

John Hart18-year-old Caren Franklin is no stranger to the Nevada City Fire Department station on Providence Mine Road - she's been a crew member since she was 16.
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Forgive Caren Franklin for playing hooky.

Instead of attending her creative writing or anatomy classes, she spent March 20 trying to save her town.



It was a lesson in resilience and crisis management as she stood shoulder-to-shoulder on a Broad Street sidewalk, battling flames that would eventually destroy a restaurant, deli, record store and the county Probation Department, and damage Off Broadstreet Theater.




For Franklin, 18, it was a class she couldn’t miss.

“I was like, there’s no way this could be happening,” said Franklin, who was alerted to the fire by her father, Dale, who was watching television while she prepared for a day at Nevada Union High School, where she’s a senior. “He came in, saying, ‘Caren, Caren, Nevada City is burning down.'”

The teen could see the flames and smoke as she drove by on the freeway. “I thought, I have to go. I couldn’t miss out on this,” Franklin said recently as crews washed fire engines at Nevada City’s Station 83, cooling off from one of the hottest weeks in the Gold Rush-era city’s history.

Once on scene, Franklin, who began with the fire department as a 16-year-old whose father once drove her to fire calls, grabbed a hose with fellow firefighters Dan Paulus and Eric Johnson and directed water to the front of Friar Tuck’s, the restaurant destroyed in the $3 million blaze.

“I was really excited. I thought it was really cool, but I thought, ‘Let’s get serious and do the job,'” said Franklin, who’d never worked a structure fire before.

Her interest in firefighting surfaced two years ago. She completed the volunteer academy at Sierra College last year and has been certified as an emergency medical technician.

She’s at the fire station up to 20 hours a week, in addition to a full school load and 20 hours a week as a Movieworld employee.

Firefighting is part of her senior project.

The Nevada City blaze all but confirmed Franklin’s future plans.

“I thought it would be fun … and now I want it for a career,” said Franklin, who hopes to earn a degree in fire technology and work for a metropolitan fire department someday.

“It’s physically demanding, but I like hard work, and I like the camaraderie,” she said.

Firefighter Kevin Cartzdafner said the department is well-served by young charges like Franklin and fellow senior Eric Johnson, 17.

“They’re great at asking questions if they don’t know something. If it wasn’t for everyone helping out, I don’t think the outcome would have been as good,” Cartzdafner said recently of the Nevada City fire before offering advice to other aspiring firefighters.

“It’s a hard job that takes a dedicated person,” he added, “and you have to be willing to put your life on the line, but it’s rewarding.”

Dale Franklin was a bit concerned about his daughter’s choice of a career. As a student with better than an A average, she had her pick of the litter when it came to volunteer work.

“At first, the fire department gave me a hard time,” he joked. “They thought daddy was pushing her for this kind of work.”

Sending his only daughter to the front lines on March 20 was a bit nerve-wracking.

“I was a little worried because (the building) was fully engulfed, but I have a lot of confidence in the department,” Dale Franklin said. “I’m immensely proud of my daughter.”


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