In the District of North Vancouver, on October 19th and 20th, the First Nations’ Emergency Services Society (FNESS) hosted another exciting Youth Fire Prevention Bootcamp. The two-day program was an immersive experience, introducing students to the dynamic world of firefighting and instilling invaluable skills that extend beyond the realm of emergency response.
The District of North Vancouver’s training center played a pivotal role in hosting the event, with the support of both the North Vancouver City Fire Department and the West Vancouver Fire Department, who not only shared their knowledge but also ignited a passion for firefighting and fire prevention.
Day 1: A glimpse into the world of firefighting
The first day of the boot camp was nothing short of thrilling. It wasn’t long before students were climbing into their turn-out gear and diving headfirst into the action looking like real firefighters in training. Students spent the morning getting a hands-on feel for the tools and equipment firefighters use daily. While the West Vancouver Fire Department took one platoon of students to new heights on their tower ladder, another platoon learned how to run water from a fire hydrant using hose lines. The platoons also learned about Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses (SCBA) and even got to try them on. As they breathed air from their tank for their first time, not even the large masks they wore could hide the joy and excitement written across their faces.
The excitement continued in the afternoon as students took turns learning hose handling and rolling techniques, practicing first aid skills, and exploring the inner workings of a fire engine.
Day 2: Skill refinement and team building
The momentum continued into day 2, with students engaging in a confined space drill, honing hose handling and rolling skills, and learning how to use a fire extinguisher by putting out a live fire. The day’s curriculum delved into forcible entry techniques, teamwork with extension ladders, effective radio communication, and even operating the jaws of life to open a car door.
Youth voices echo with gratitude
The students made the bootcamp an enriching experience for all with their dedication, enthusiasm, and gratitude. One of the students told us he was thankful he could take home practical skills that would help him, and his family, in their everyday lives. He said he found this program “exhilarating,” and enjoyed his time learning outside even though he usually likes to be inside reading history books. Sharing his insights, he emphasized the importance of checking the expiration date on fire extinguishers. He also expressed a newfound confidence and comfort after learning more about fire safety because he hopes it can help alleviate his sister’s fear of fire. Becoming a firefighter is his dream and in just two days, that dream feels one step closer.
At the end of the second day, a courageous student walked to the front of the room to express her heartfelt gratitude to everyone. She started by stating her appreciation that, “It’s great to see so many different youth here” and thanked her classmates for joining her. She then turned to the FNESS Fire Services team and said, “I just wanted to say thank you ‘cause this is so important. It hasn’t felt like two days. It really hasn’t and I’m super upset that it’s ending, but I hope to come back here very soon and I hope to see all you guys again very soon.”
What the future looks like
Expressing why these bootcamps matter, Mattias Ballantyne, a First Nations Firefighter with Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services and a Fire Services Officer with FNESS, said, “It’s very important for the Indigenous youth to see that a career in fire services is a possibility. For a lot of these communities there’s not full-time firefighting options so, this is a great segway into fire services.”
To keep these young Indigenous students inspired and encouraged to become firefighters, Mattias has started an Indigenous Firefighter mentorship program with FNESS and partnered with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Justice Institute of BC (JIBC), and Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS). The program is only a few months old and aims to guide these youth toward fulfilling careers in fire services.
As FNESS continues to pave the way for the next generation of firefighters, the Youth Fire Prevention Bootcamp stands as a beacon of inspiration and empowerment, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of these aspiring young individuals.
All photos in this story were taken by Richard Olak.