Jose T. is playing with fire … literally. The 18-year-old Arsenal Technical High School senior is
foregoing his ceremonial walk across the stage with his 2016 graduation class to
join the North Star
Fire Crew in Alaska.
training, often while wearing a 45-pound pack on his back; 16-hour firefighting
shifts in the wild land’s of Alaska; sleeping in tents; and dining on Meals Ready
to Eat (MREs).
Service’s 16-member volunteer Hotshot crews, which are responsible for fighting
wild fires from May through August. It’s
an opportunity that puts Jose one step closer to fulfilling his dream of
becoming a full-fledged firefighter. It’s a dream he’s had since enrolling in
the two-year Fire and Rescue program at Arsenal Tech’s Career Technology Center (CTC) during his
excited than anything because I’m ready to do this,” said Jose, who’s also a
student in Tech’s Math and Science Magnet program. “I’m getting this
opportunity to go out there and do something that I really want to do with my
life. … It’s an experience that people don’t get to do very often, and it will
do me a lot of good in the future.”
instructors of the Fire and Rescue program, said the North Star Fire Crew is a
great opportunity for aspiring firefighters for many reasons, but specifically
because it fills a portion of what firefighters call the Black Hole — the time
between age 18-21.
so you’re going to need either college or military to even be looked at on that
list,” said Wheeler, a 14-year IFD veteran, who teaches the CTC course with
retired IFD Lieutenant William Alfke, a 35-year veteran. “We also don’t hire
very many people. We get 3,000 to 5,000 people applying for 30 jobs.”
like Jose stand out in a crowded field of hopefuls. Unlike most fire departments,
the volunteer North Star Fire Crew hires at age 18. The goal of the program is
to train and provide potential recruits for the Hotshot crews.
doesn’t,” said Wheeler.
activity for students interested in becoming firefighters. There’s the burn
chamber — a shipping container that’s set on fire and reaches over 1,200
degrees with gasses igniting overhead, with students in full gear fighting the
blaze. Students also climb an 85-foot tall aerial ladder and participate in various
physical training tests. The focus of the program is teaching students how to
fight structural fires.
ignite at any moment and change directions with the blowing wind. For two
weeks, he’ll engage in paid training to gain his certifications, followed by an
unpaid voluntary status with time spent getting equipment ready, building trails
for the community and working out until he’s called up to join a Hotshots crew.
hired 30 (including Jose),” said Wheeler. “Out of the recruit class, they take
their Top 16 on their first trip, so the other guys are still not getting paid,
they’re still on volunteer status. … They usually end up at the end of the
season with about nine people out of that 30 because it’s so hard mentally.
Physically, it’s draining in every aspect.”
and she has tried —he’s still ready to go. “I have painted the worst picture
that I can for this kid,” she said. “I said, ‘Your feet are going to be wet the
whole time and you’re going to be exhausted. You’re going to be sleeping on the
ground and it’s going to be awful, but it’s going to be great.’”
doing whatever it takes to become a firefighter. That includes attending
Vincennes University in the spring.
service field, whether it was a police officer or firefighter, because they see
it as a respectable career,” said Jose. “The fire department is the one that
stood out to me more, and as I got into the (Fire and Rescue) class, it kind of
in their fire uniforms, “carrying all these tools and doing things that normal
high-schoolers don’t get a chance to do. It seemed like it would be really fun
to do and learn about,” he said.
active and retired Indianapolis Fire Department crewmembers, is a gateway to
gaining some of the skills and training needed to become a firefighter.
Students — if they can pass the tests — receive state certifications, as
well as nine credit hours toward Vincennes University and six credit hours
toward Ivy Tech State College. The program has a graduation rate above 90
firefighting. They also understand that another aspect is being physically
capable of doing it. Physical fitness is really important when it comes to
firefighting because it affects how well you do your job,” said Jose. “You can
save somebody’s life because you’re physically capable of doing it. So they
stress a lot of physical activity in the class. We have PT (physical training) almost
every morning — whether it’s running a few laps or running the stairs, putting
on our gear and running around in that and having the weight on your back.
Weight training with the bench press, pull up bar (they stress that a lot
because there’s a lot of upper body strength needed).”
the Fire and Rescue class will help in Alaska.
in really good shape to do wild land firefighting because it’s a more rigorous
job because you’re out in the woods and not in a small structure; you have the
whole ground to cover. It’s a lot more
last month getting ready for this than I have the whole year,” said Wheeler.
“He’s excited and ready to go. This is something so different and he was the
extremely happy for him.
Crew, I was proud of what Jose accomplished and happy for our teachers and all
the work they put in,” said CTC Director Ben Carter. “Jose is going to be a
fantastic addition to the team.”
player. He’s a leader. He’s a quiet leader and he’s the first guy in line. He’s
showing by example, and that’s what I respect about him. He’s getting it done,
but he’s not making a big deal about getting it done. And people want to follow
somebody like that.”
he’s happy his parents get to see him reach one of his goals.
dreams they’ve had for me, and that they’re proud of me and proud of what I’m
doing,” he said. “I went beyond their expectations to succeed. I like making
them proud; it makes me feel good.”