Cadet in hot pursuit of firefighting training

Prairie High School senior will finish stint with Clark County Fire & Rescue, head to Oregon for 3-year program

By Susan Parrish, Columbian Education Reporter

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While some kids may play with fire, Jack Fletcher hopes to spend his career putting out fires.

“It’s an exciting job,” Fletcher said. “Every day is different.”

Like his fellow Clark County high school seniors, Fletcher attends academic classes weekday mornings at his home school, Prairie High School in Battle Ground.

But his afternoons are anything but typical. By noon, he’s Chief Fletcher, a fire cadet with Clark County Fire & Rescue. Dressed in a crisp blue uniform, he takes roll before class begins at Station 26 near Dollars Corner west of Battle Ground. As chief, he’s the lead fire cadet who has 22 other first- and second-year cadets in his charge.

Four days after his June 11 high school graduation, Fletcher will drive to Prineville, Ore., to begin a three-year student firefighter training program with Crook County Fire & Rescue and Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Ore. He’s received a scholarship valued at about $30,000 over three years.

“The hands-on experience is a really good way to get your foot in the door,” Fletcher said. “And I’m getting my education and getting it paid for.”

When he’s completed the program, he plans to have his Associate of Applied Science degree in structural fire science, a paramedic certification and hundreds of hours of fire science experience.

If he passes all of his fire science and paramedic classes each quarter and maintains his grades, he will be reimbursed for his tuition, lab fees and books for three years. His room and board in a Crook County fire station with other cadets will be covered, and he’ll receive a monthly stipend.

Crook County Fire & Rescue has 12 resident volunteers. In June, it will add Fletcher and three others, including Cody Gotsch from Ridgefield High School, who is a fire cadet at Station 26 with Fletcher. Students from Washington, Oregon and California have participated in the Crook County program.

The cadets in the high school program in Clark County are not allowed to fight fire. When a fire call comes in, the high school cadets can ride along on the engine, but they only observe.

Before Fletcher and Gotsch can fight fire in Crook County, they will complete a 15-day academy beginning June 16. Then they will be assigned to a shift and will be able to respond as part of an engine company. In September, they begin college classes.

“They are resident volunteers who pull regular shifts as other firefighters,” said Capt. Jerimiah Kenfield, the training officer for student firefighters in Crook County. “They attend their college classes, but also do 24-hour work shifts like any firefighter.”

Part of their training will include learning to drive the vehicles, including the structural engines.

“Driving and pumping are good skills to have,” he said.

“Jack came down and did an interview and testing process,” said Kenfield. “I think he’ll do great, especially with the background with the Clark County academy. Like any profession, you’re learning the whole time, keeping up with the training required.”

Clark County Fire & Rescue’s rigorous two-year program is open to juniors and seniors at Battle Ground, La Center and Ridgefield high schools. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 grade point average at their high school and a 3.0 in cadet classes. Those who successfully complete the program are eligible to earn as many as 26 credits through Lower Columbia College in Longview. Students interested in pursuing the program should contact their high school guidance counselor.

Fletcher and other second-year students recently spent a week in New York and Washington, D.C., visiting fire stations, monuments and memorials, including Ground Zero.

Fletcher said he recommends the Clark County Fire & Rescue program to students.

“I’m a hands-on learner,” Fletcher said. “You get to do a lot of things you don’t get to do in high school. You get to spend half your day at the fire station.”

He said he’s looking forward to the program in Crook County and being certified so he can fight fire.

“Being a firefighter, it’s like your brotherhood,” Fletcher said. “There’s a really tight bond there. You have their back, and they have yours.”