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Fire academy answers burning questions

Christina Proctor
Provided to the Tribune
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Imagine walking into a burning building. It goes against every basic survival instinct. And training against that instinct is an essential part of every firefighter’s education.

Lake Tahoe Community College President Paul Killpatrick got a firsthand look, feel and experience last Saturday at what LTCC Firefighter Academy cadets are learning to handle. Killpatrick and Virginia Boyar, LTCC’s director of career and technical education, who oversees the successful program, arrived at Lake Valley’s station 7 to observe the cadets’ exercise in the “burn tower,” but observation quickly became participation.

“Whatever the penalties are for arson right now they should be doubled, tripled,” Killpatrick said. “Suiting up and going into that tower was a life-altering event. The admiration I have for firefighters is incredible.”

Killpatrick and Boyar had help to get into their turnout gear, and with help it still took them 10 minutes. The cadets can suit up in less than a minute. Then the duo crawled into the smoke-filled tower.

“It’s dark and your mask immediately fogs over. It almost feels like you’re drowning. And even in full gear the heat is unbelievable. My ears felt like they were on fire,” Killpatrick said.

Boyar described the disorientation as intense.

“When we crawled in, the dark and with your mask clouding up, I felt claustrophobic and I’m not a claustrophobic person. To just get a small fraction of a view of what firefighters go through was unbelievable. They are just amazing heroes.”

Leona Allen, LTCC Fire Academy coordinator, said Killpatrick’s presence scored big points with the cadets.

“It was great they went in (the burn tower). It gives them a good idea of the intensity of our training,” Cadet Monika Renk added.

LTCC’s Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Academy is in its third year. It is a three quarter-long program, which culminates in the instructional requirement for Firefighter I certification through the California State Fire Marshal’s office. LTCC’s program is fully accredited by the state fire marshal’s office. There are 21 cadets in this year’s class. The college will host the Regional Fire Technology Summit on May 8. Fourteen colleges are invited to the summit and representatives from the training division of the state fire marshal office will attend.


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