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Firefighting class gives teens a head start

Troy Baker, a captain with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, spoke matter-of-factly to the 18 men sitting attentively in front of him.

“Your priority is your safety,” Baker said. “Think about what started the fire – is that thing still a danger? If there is any kind of metal fence, make sure that there are no power lines in the area; other wise …”

He was speaking to potential future firefighters. But most of these men have not yet turned 18. Thursday’s session in Nevada City, part of a two-week basic wildland fire class run by CDF and a year-long program run by the Regional Occupational Program, is meant to give the mostly teenage participants a real-world firefighting experience.



“For a 17- or 18-year-old, this class is a major step,” Baker said.

Completion of the class can lead to an entry-level job as a seasonal firefighter for those 18 years or older, and that can lead to a career in the profession.




This week and next, two groups of students will be meeting in Nevada City for hands-on and classroom sessions: A morning group consists of Placer County students, and an afternoon session is a mix of students from Nevada and Placer counties. Students count the course as an elective at their schools and receive credit required toward graduation.

“These are some of the top academic students at their schools,” ROP Instructor Christopher Armstrong said.

To get into the class, applicants go through an application process that requires at least one personal interview, he said.

Baker said that to be hired by CDF as a firefighter on any level, applicants need five certifications: First aid training, CPR training, confined spaces training, hazardous materials training and basic wildland firefighting training. The ROP class deals with all of those components.

That is one of the reasons why the class is popular and high school students, who are not old enough to become firefighters, take part.

“I’m taking the class to get more experience – to get ahead of the game,” 17-year-old Placer County student David Barbeau said.

Barbeau turns 18 in May, but he thinks that it will be several years before he gets a regular job as a firefighter. He said he first wants to get all of his prerequisite certifications, such as becoming an EMT, and completing a fire science class at Sierra College. Baker said that CDF hires new recruits out of that class.

Placer County student Jeff Nicolaysen, 17, won’t be turning 18 any time soon. He said he is in the class now because he wants an advantage over his peers when he goes for a job in 2006.

“(Next year) I will look for a cadet program or any volunteer programs,” he said. “This is something I really want to do. I have a huge respect for firefighters.”


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