Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

ETS Fire Academy concludes in Chicago

Fire Academy, a six-year-old, week-long summer career camp sponsored by Cass County fire departments and Educational Talent Search at Southwestern Michigan College, has produced six actual firefighters.

Ironically, 2014 Marcellus graduate Lacie Scoggin doesn’t expect to add to that number.

For Scoggin, the first cadet to complete the camp four times, it has been more of a family heritage quest.

She is more certain she will attend SMC than that she will ever pursue a firefighting career.

Scoggin is wearing her dad’s Marcellus turnout gear. A.J. used to be assistant chief and remains a member with 22 years of service.

Firefighters in her family also include a grandfather, uncles and her older sister, Lauren, who completed the fire academy three times.

“Female domination is coming. We are going to take over,” Scoggin said of the genders of the 16 high school students — 13 girls and three guys.

“In the fall, I’m going to Word of Life Bible Institute in New York and study the Bible for a year,” Scoggin said. “I’ll graduate next fall and come back to SMC for social work. Maybe I’ll be a firefighter later in life, but probably not. I’ve got a lot of experience and knowledge with which I can relate to my dad. It’s made me appreciate what he does on a daily basis.”

Contrary to Lacie, Calob Besaw, who will be a sophomore at Edwardsburg High School, is exploring a potential firefighting career. He’ll be back next summer.

“This would be pretty cool to go into,” Besaw said, “but I’m not sure. I’ve always kind of wanted to be a firefighter. Maybe I could stay a volunteer for a while, then move up. I definitely got a lot of knowledge. I didn’t know there were three different types of extinguishers,” including red canisters for carbon dioxide and dry chemical or air-pressurized water, which is like a giant silver squirt gun.

Besaw’s favorite part was the June 19 excursion to the city gravel pit off Middle Crossing Road near Municipal Airport where, guided by a dozen professionals, they utilized what they learned all week to douse three blazing cars.

Camp concludes June 20 with a charter bus trip to the Chicago Fire Training Academy and a tour of the real fire station 51 where the NBC series “Chicago Fire” films.

Last year participants were allowed a Chicago River ride on the department’s first new fire boat in more than 60 years.

The 2011 addition, named for Christopher Wheatley, killed battling a blaze in 2010, is a 90-foot, 330-ton vessel with a top speed of 16 mph.
Chicago has 28 miles of lakefront.

“Each year is different. We went to Grand Rapids’ training building one year,” Scoggin said. “My freshman year we went to Sears Tower (Willis Tower, America’s tallest building at 108 stories).

Fire Academy coursework takes place in the Dowagiac fire station classroom.

“We host it,” Incident Commander Doug Michels said. “Edwardsburg and Marcellus provide gear. Pokagon and Indian Lake have helped out in the past.” Wayne Township helped oversee this training exercise.

Cadets practiced search and rescue in an SMC residence hall, locating volunteer victim Ethan Pasternak.

“All the people who helped us are invited to go to Chicago,” Educational Talent Search Director Amy Anderson said. “It’s a chance for our departments to see Chicago Fire. They do demonstrations and had us crawl out a window onto a fire escape. I hate heights. One year we were there during promotions and all the new captains and chiefs were getting fitted for their outfits. The trainer knows the fire guys have been there before, so he always tries to find something different to show them.”

Anderson, an Edwardsburg school board member, is gratified that the academy has flourished. “Especially with having more girls, it’s something non-traditional they can really check out and see if they want to do it. Some go on to be firefighters. Some just think it’s cool.”

“The nice thing doing this with the fire departments,” she added, “if these guys decide to take Firefighter I and Firefighter II, they would be sponsored for class, fitted with gear and they get volunteers as soon as they hit 18 and pass. All of the fire departments’ volunteers are aging. It helps to have younger people willing and able to do it. They’ve learned everything. Yesterday we did hose relays on how to properly pull it quick-like and carry it places.”

“We always try to have this the week after school gets out,” Anderson said. “That way, if they have summer jobs, they hold off starting for one week.”

Thursday night, trainees enjoy water ball and clean the firehouse and cook for the firefighters as a way of saying thanks for their guidance.

Friday morning, before the 7:30 a.m. departure, firefighters reciprocate by fixing breakfast for the campers.

ETS is part of the federal TRIO programs which help individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in higher education.

SMC’s program provides academic, career and financial counseling to participants identified as having the potential to do well in college if they receive additional support services such as tutoring, assistance with college entrance exams and applications and exposure to college campuses around the region.